Katha Pollitt | The Nation

Katha Pollitt

Katha Pollitt

Politics, feminism, culture, books and daily life.

I Heart Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama's performance Monday night was spectacular. She was confident, warm, relaxed and eloquent, also smart, beautiful,radiant, gracious, stylish, humorous and tall. I want to be her when I grow up. She accomplished, seemingly effortlessly, what she had to do: she replaced the angry-black-Pantherish terrorist- fist-bumping Michelle of right-wing (and not only right-wing) fantasy with Michelle, the normal, everyday, working-class-rooted loving wife and (working) mother. She presented herself and her family -- her parents, her brother, her daughters, and her husband -- as part of an ongoing all-American story of devotion to faith, family, hard work,community, sports, and, yes, country.

When she talked about her childhood--her father and his slow deterioriation from multiple sclerosis, her parent's hopes and sacrifices for her and her brother--I cried. I know, I know, how hokey that is, but I'll bet all over America, people were wiping their eyes.

In her column about the speech, even Mona Charen paused momentarily in her Obama-bashing labors to declare herself moved and impressed. Then, of course, it was back to business: Michelle's 1985 Princeton senior thesis, the Rev. Wright, a quotation from a New Yorker profile suggesting that Michelle Obama thinks America has some problems--because that is just so, so not true.

About that thesis: How desperate must conservative pundits be that they are combing this ancient document for traces of black militance? How would Mona Charen like to be judged by a paper she wrote in college? Christopher Hitchens joined the hunt in a particularly unhinged and paranoid column in Slate back in May. Beginning with a lordly sneer at young Michelle's prose ("not written in any known language"), he seizes on a passing acknowledgment of Black Power, a book which Stokely Carmichael co-authored with Charles V. Hamilton in l967, to tie her to Carmichael's subsequent career as a black-nationalist Pan-African separatist, and thence to African dictators, antisemitism, Louis Farrakhan and the murder of Malcolm X.

I should have written about this column when it first appeared, but frankly, I didn't want to join the let's all-talk- about-Christopher-incessantly circus. I was remiss: It was a low, disgraceful smear, tantamount to accusing a writer who cites Marx of being a Soviet spy-- or, for that matter, a man who briefly attended a nominally Muslim school in childhood of being a secret Muslim and best friend of Osama bin Laden.

First Ladyhood is a retrograde job, sort of like being the national spokesmodel. Still it's a great thing that an accomplished black woman might soon be taking it on. It doesn't speak so well of the electorate, though, that Michelle Obama has to hide her light of career-womanhood and, yes, African-American experience under a great big bushel of bland middle-American family-values conformity. The whole speech was about reassuring white Americans that she was just like them, (as they imagine themselves to be): none of her relatives are on drugs or welfare or in prison.

For all her evident-but-never-specified professional success, she's basically a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother: black people have families! If you closed your eyes, the only way you'd know she was black was her emotional reference to Martin Luther King. According to her brother's video introduction, her favorite TV show as a child was The Brady Bunch. Whew! What if it had been Soul Train?

I would love to see Michelle Obama living in the White House and representing America abroad. But she must really love her husband-- and believe that business about being the change you want to see in the world -- -- to be willing to spend four, or even eight, years soothing white America's racial and gender anxieties.

In Search of the Elusive PUMAs

Monday, August 25

Good Omen: the people sitting in front of me on the plane read The Nation! Anna and Russ from Washington DC are coming to the convention as tourists. Apparently a lot of people are doing this. Who knew? Anna and Russ are huge Obama fans, and (like everyone I will meet today) are confident he will win in November. For extra fun they've brought along their two year old, Juliet. Brave souls. "What do you say about George Bush?" says Anna, using her singsong mommy voice. "Do you remember what we call George Bush?" I imagine it's something not too favorable, but Juliet, who has clearly already begun her life in politics, just gives a diplomatic smile.

You're not supposed to write about interviewing cabbies, which is too bad because the extremely good-looking and cheerful Somali driver who takes me into downtown Denver has a lot of interesting things to say about American intervention in Africa that I'll just keep to myself. But I have to report that, like most of the taxi drivers I've met in the last year, he's for Obama. "America used to be admired all over the world. It's fixable! If foreign policy changes, America is America again." Put that way, it sounds so simple. "If he loses, it's because of race. When people say 'we don't know who he is' -- that's race. When people say, 'he's really a Muslim' -- that's race. He went to a Christian church for twenty years, but he's really a Muslim? What kind of a Muslim is that?" Not for the first time, I'm struck by how many ordinary people not only have as much political acumen as most pundits, but have learned to talk like them too. Why can't this driver go on TV, and Chris Matthews drive a cab?

While waiting to check in at the Comfort Inn, I look around for possible interviews. "Are you a delegate?' I ask a well-padded, carefully-casually-dressed man who is visibly suppressing his annoyance at the slowness of the check-in process. He smiles at my naivete. "Major Donor." While trying to fathom the mindset of someone who would describe himself this way--donor, ok, but major donor? Isn't that a little vain?--I latch on to Jeffrey and Brian, who look to be in their late forties, and tag along with them to the Convention Center for the Gay Caucus meeting, already well under way. Like many gays, they were Hillary supporters from way back; Jeffrey describes them carefully as "warming up " to Obama. What are their issues? "The economy," says Brian instantly. "The war." What about gay marriage? No! they say practically in unison. "Civil union is fine -- it's the benefits that matter," says Brian. I guess he doesn't read Andrew Sullivan. "There are a lot of other issues that matter more," adds Jeffrey. Such as? "Anti-discrimination laws, hate crime laws, Don't Ask Don't Tell."

The gay caucus is held in a large brightly lit underground room. It's well attended; the audience looks youngish, hip, attractive. A long row of credentialed journalists and bloggers are arranged at a prominently placed table, where they type furiously on laptops as a series of upbeat, energetic speakers culminating in charming, dynamic Rep. Tammy Baldwin -- take the podium.

How different is the rural caucus, held next door. Attendance is sparse; there's lots of polyester; no table of bloggers. In fact, there's only one other journalist here, a writer for the Dallas Morning News. As I come in, An older gentleman with an unfortunately soft and monotonous voice is going through a long list of McCain's bad votes on issues affecting farms and farmers (in this room, ethanol is good). But the next speaker, Tony Dean of Sportsmen for Obama, is riveting. Dean is short, white-haired, rotund and he has one of the great old radio voices-- rich, warm, genial, friendly--which is not surprising, because he is a radio announcer, formerly of stock-car and Nascar racing, more recently of Dakota Back Roads, a popular and much-honored show about fishing and hunting.

"I used to be a conservative Republican," he begins, and swiftly moves on his support for South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson, his father's love of quail hunting and his mother's passion for fishing (every Saturday and Sunday!), and his long and interesting life in radio. I'm not sure where all this is going, but I could listen to him all day. And sure enough, there's a point: "This is the most important election of my lifetime. I'm not sure fish and wildlife can survive eight more years of George Bush." Dean talks about the ongoing destruction of the regulatory system that protects forests and water: "There's a clear connection between fishing and clean water." He talks about the reliance of small rural Dakota towns on the tourist dollars from hunters and fishermen and winds up with global warming: "It's real." Mallards that used to appear in vast numbers in South Dakota by October 1, the day the hunting season starts, now stay in Canada till January.

What a terrific speech! I not only want to vote for Obama more than ever, I want to go fishing too. In South Dakota. While it still has fish.

Next stop: the Equalitea hosted by Feminist Majority, NOW, the National Congress of Black Women and other women's groups. I get here too late for the speeches and tribute to Stephanie Tubbs Jones, but I do get a chance to chat a bit with Kimberle Crenshaw, legal theorist and law professor. Kim's field is affirmative action, and she has lots to say about what's wrong with the currently fashionable argument that race- and gender-based affirmative action should be replaced with preference based on class.

People talk about class when they talk about race, she tells me, but not when they talk about women. "Does class protect women? Did it protect Hillary? You can be a multimillionaire and still suffer the effects of discrimination because you're a woman." Most affirmative action is about government contracts in construction and the like, she goes on, not about getting into college or law school. In the six years since California passed its ban on affirmative action, women and minority-owned businesses have lost 1.4 billion dollars in government contracts. Yet white women voted for the ban, making white women the only demographic that voted against its own interests. Sigh! Read Kim's terrific take down of Ward Connerly in Ms. magazine at www.aapf.org.

I thought I might find some PUMAs at the Equalitea-- like every other journalist here, I want to track down those elusive felines. (Later I learn they have spent the day hanging with Chris Matthews, getting enormous amounts of exposure and making women look like lunatics.) In the powder room I run into Ellie Smeal and Mavis Leno. "What about those PUMAs?" I ask.

"There has to be some reality here," Ellie says exasperatedly. "Personally I think a lot of these people were McCain supporters all along. I know plenty of women who gave heart and soul to Hillary who are with Obama now."

"You'd think none of them ever worked in an office," adds Mavis. "You have to compromise!"

Smeal herself is totally on board with Obama: "This is a progressive, positive ticket." She heaps praise on Biden, whom she has known for years as a friend of feminism, a supporter of women in his own family, and an all-around wonderful person, who is "deeply, deeply against the war."

More later....

Good-Bye, John Edwards

So now we know. John Edwards did have sex with that woman, Rielle Hunter, just as the National Enquirer said. So much for all those jokes about Bat Boy and Hillary's alien baby. I always thought the Edwards rumors were true, because rumors like that usually are (says she cynically) , and I defended this view in many an e mail. But every time I started to write something about it here I would get into a debate about monogamy, privacy, Puritanism, the reliability of tabloids etc with one of our more polyamorous editors, and the air would leak out of my balloon. I would think, Well, really, what do I know? and Oh why add to poor Elizabeth's troubles? I still sort of think that.

So good-bye to Edwards, aka the electable white man. I suppose you could say he's done the nation a favor by further tarnishing that overrated and outdated brand. (If you don't want to hear about women who give themselves names like Rielle and their love children, elect more female candidates!) If he had had more substance to begin with -- a thicker resume, more raw political talent,a bigger, more enthusiastic following, a more, how to put this, compelling and endearing personality -- an affair might not be fatal to his future. After all, Clinton got elected despite Gennifer Flowers. But , as Gail Collins points out, there just wasn't that much to Edwards, besides his policy proposals. Apparently the electorate intuited that. Fortunately, or we'd have just handed the election to McCain.

I supported Edwards because he was the only candidate who talked seriously about inequality, but the truth is I never liked him -- the 28,000 square foot house, the canned son-of-a-millworker routine, the endless parading of his family and its perfections, the (as it seemed to me) politically manipulative use of his son's tragic death and his wife's cancer. "I care about the policy, not the person," one of his academic advisers told me when I confessed my visceral dislike, and I felt properly rebuked for my superficiality. What, after all, did I really know about Edwards the person? What difference did his little vanity vibes make when compared with poverty, which only Edwards was willing to declare scandalous -- and curable?

Time -- and if not Time, the Enquirer -- will tell if he's telling the truth that Rielle Hunter's daughter isn't his, and that he knows nothing about the large sums of money being paid to Hunter and self-proclaimed Other Man and baby father Andrew Young. Color me skeptical. And next time, I'm going to trust my instincts more. For good reasons and bad, the person does matter.

Stealth Assault on Reproductive Rights

When pro-choicers accuse anti-choicers of being anti-contraception they're often taken as crying wolf -- even though no anti-choice organization explicitly endorses birth control and despite the prominent anti-choice role of the Catholic Church, which explicitly bans contraception. After all, goes the complacent point of view, most women, and most couples, use some form of birth control. Opposition to it seems like something out of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, a novel whose futuristic vision of women's subjection to rightwing Christian patriarchs no less a shrewd social critic than Mary McCarthy found preposterous when she reviewed it in the New York Times Book Review in 1986.

The Bush Administration seems bent on giving Atwood material for a sequel. Last month, Health and Human Services issued a draft of new regulations which would require health-care providers who receive federal funds to accept as employees nurses and other workers who object to abortion and even to most kinds of birth control. This rule would cover some 500,000 hospitals, clinics, and other medical facilities-- including family planning clinics, which would, absurdly, legally be bound to hire people who will obstruct their very mission. To refuse to hire them, or to fire them, would be to lose funds for discriminating against people who object to abortion for religious or --get this -- moral beliefs.

This represents quite an expansion of health workers' longstandingright not to be involved in abortion. And, incidentally, this respect for moral beliefs only goes one way. A Catholic hospital has no corresponding obigation to hire pro-choice workers or accomodate their moral beliefs by permitting them to offer emergency contraception to rape victims or hand out condoms to the HIV positive; a "crisis pregnancy center" would not have to hire pro-choice counsellors who would tell women that abortion would not really give them breast cancer or leave them sterile. Only anti-choicers, apparently, have moral beliefs that entitle them to jobs they refuse to actually perform.

There are several disturbing elements to this story. One is that even as it fades into history, the Bush Administration is catering to the anti-choice movement's larger agenda of making contraception harder to obtain. What Bush can't give them legislatively, he'll provide administratively, in bits and pieces, under cover of granting workers rights of conscience (the only workers' rights he seems to care about). Remember when it seemed just plain bizarre that a pharmacist could refuse to fill a woman's prescription for emergency contraception or even the Pill? Now pharmacists have that explicit right in four states, and possibly in five more.

Bureaucratic rules and regulations may seem arcane-- how many nurses who think the Pill "kills babies" want to work in family-planning clinics? Actually, they have far-reaching effects. For example, the HHS regulations could invalidate state laws requiring hospitals to offer emergency contraception to rape victims. Moreover, the importance of regulations goes way beyond the actual number of people they affect directly. They shape both how we think of rights and how we decide what normal behavior is. As it becomes more accepted for health care workers to inflict their moral judgments on patients, and customers, the burden shifts onto women seeking care. Instead of asking "what gives the pharmacist the right to refuse to fill her prescription?" and "Why should a birth-control clinic be forced to employ a nurse who won't give out the Pill?" the question becomes "why can't she go to another drugstore or come back to the clinic another day"?

As the blogger Amanda Marcotte argues, antichoicers know they can't ban contraception, but they can redefine it as a lifestyle drug, a luxury, rather than a medical necessity that gets a lot of credit for modern women's good health and longevity. Amazingly, Bill O"Reilly is not the only person who thinks health insurance plans should pay for Viagra but not for the Pill. If you can't afford birth control, just don't have sex, you hussy! The next Administration may not find it so easy to turn this mindset around, and if McCain wins, I doubt it will even try. McCain himself, as I've noted before, has a longstanding record of votes against abortion and birth control -- 125 out of 130 votes in Congress and Senate. The man has a O% rating from NARAL. That he is widely regarded as a "moderate" on reproductive rights is truly incredible.

Another dangerous feature of the proposed rules is that they redefine contraception as abortion. Standard medical authorities define abortion as something that takes place after you become pregnant, that is, after a fertilized egg implants in your womb and sets off a cascade of physical changes in your body. The HHS draft changes all that. It defines abortion as "any procedures, including prescription drugs, that result in the termination of the life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation.'" According to these rules, you can have an "abortion" without even being pregnant. (The Pill,emergency contraception, and the IUD mostly work by preventing ovulation and fertilization, but anti-choice advocates argue that they prevent implantation, and it is not yet possible to say with 100 percent certainty that this never, ever happens.) These are the knots we get tied up in when religious ideology replaces sound science.

Don't let the Bush administration take away women's right to get legal reproductive health care in a timely and respectful fashion. Support Hillary Clinton and Patty Murray, who are leading the fight in the Senate by emailing your senators here . Better yet, send them a real letter, on paper. As for Congress, So far only 104 Representatives --fewer than one in four --have signed a letter protesting the changes. Call or write yours and demand that they join you in the 21st century.

UPDATE: More info, including lists of Senators and Representatives who've signed on to letters opposing the new regulations here.

McCain Opposes Contraception -- Pass It On

I realize it's not as world-shaking as the caricature of the Obamas on the cover of The New Yorker, which has the high-end media in a total tizzy. It's probably not even as important as the raunchy joke Bernie Mac told at an Obama fundraiser last week, which was bumped from the tizzy list by the New Yorker story. But can't the commentariat take a break from itself and let the world know how much John McCain opposes birth control? Vastly more people rely on contraception than read The New Yorker or know Bernie Mac from mac'n' cheese. In fact, vastly more people use birth control than believe Obama is a secret Muslim. They might like to know that when it comes to contraception, McCain is no maverick.

Here's the story. Last week, Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard who has been helping McCain look bright-eyed and estrogen-friendly, told reporters that women wanted more choice in their health care plans; for example, it bothered women when plans covered Viagra but not contraception. Big mistake! McCain had voted against a bill that would have required plans to cover birth control if they covered prescription meds at all, like, um, Viagra. McCain's nonresponse when queried about this by a reporter was astonishing. As posted on Youtube, he squirms and grins and smirks (Viagra! Embarrassing!) and fumfers about evasively. "I don't know enough about it to give you an informed answer," he manages to splutter, "because I don't recall the vote, I've cast thousands of votes... it's something I've not thought much about."

So. John McCain  is so opposed to contraception he voted against requiring  insurance plans to cover it like other drugs,  and either so indifferent to women's health and rights or just so out of it he doesn't even  remember how he voted.  That's the way to show American women you really care. 

This is not a trivial issue. There's the basic unfairness of not covering these essential, even life-saving drugs and devices, so fundamental to women's health and well-being, and the added insult of denying coverage while men are lavished with cut-rate erections. And there's the craven submission to religious extremists that moves the politics of that denial. It's a pocket-book issue, too: A year's worth of contraception can cost a woman $600. That's a lot of money. Is it too much to expect the next president of the United States to understand that? Now that every politican in America prides himself on knowing the price of a gallon of milk and talks like he's just finished doing the week's shopping for a family of ten?

The story heated up the blogosphere, but a Nexis search at the beginning of this week found only 61 mentions in print and on TV, and most of those were passing references in stories about McCain's bad week (Phil Gramm calling Americans "a nation of whiners" obsessed with a "mental recession" got most of the attention) or focused on the effect Fiorina's off-message remark will have on her vice-presidential chances.

Where is the discussion of the real issue, which is that for over twenty years John McCain has voted against contraception every time it came up and -- now he tells us! -- doesn't even care or know enough to explain why. Women --and men -- need to know where he stands on this issue so basic to health and human flourishing if they are going to make informed decisions in the polling booth. But so far the media has refused to present McCain's anti-contraception record as a big, coherent story that tells us a great deal about who he is and what policies he would pursue in the White House.

Maybe The New Yorker could do a cover about it. Then the media might find it interesting enough to discuss.

Preachers and Politics

For years, Democrats have been trying to shed their secular image in order to appeal to voters who think Jesus is a Republican. As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for, because now, thanks to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the Democrats have got religion and everything that comes with it -- weirdness, wrath, insult, blowhardiness, vanity, paranoia, divisiveness and trouble. When Barack Obama told the 2004 Democratic convention, "We worship an awesome god in the blue states," this probably wasn't the result he had in mind.

By repudiating Wright Tuesday, Obama missed a chance to call on McCain to turn away from his own problematic clerical helpers. McCain still welcomes the endorsement of the televangelist John Hagee, who has famously attributed Hurricane Katrina to God's wrath at homosexuals, calls the Catholic church "the great whore," claims the Koran commands Muslims to kill Jews and Christians, condemns the Harry Potter books as witchcraft, and wants a world war over Israel, whose most aggressive settlement policies he vigorously supports, because it will precipitate the Second Coming of Christ.

As Sarah Posner lays out in an excellent post for TAPPED, Wright and Hagee have a lot in common. Both believe that chickens come home to roost--in New Orleans, on 9/11--and that God sends them. Both think America is sinful. Both have bizarre ideas with terrible, real-world implications: Hagee wants the US and israel to attack Iran to bring on the end times; Rev. Wright claims the United States government invented the HIV virus "as a means of genocide against people of color."

The fact is, if Wright were a white wingnut, the media--and the voters--would give him the pass they give Hagee- and Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and the other radical-right preachers, who say vicious, bigoted, nutty things that violate common sense and common decency all the time. The press portrays these divines in various ways -- respectable men of the cloth or shrewd political operators or occasionally even as crazy old coots-- but it doesn't get anywhere near as worked up about them, or about their closeness to Republican politicians, as it did about Wright. You probably don't even know that McCain accepted the endorsement of the Ohio Pentecostal minister Rod Parsley, campaigned with him in Cincinnati and praised him as a "moral compass" and a "spiritual guide"--Rod Parsley, who in addition to the customary anti-gay obsessions, has described Allah as a "demon spirit" and Islam as a "false religion" the United States was "in part" founded in order to destroy in holy war!

McCain's defenders want the press to make much of the fact that Wright was Obama's pastor for many years, while Hagee and Parsley are not personally close to McCain. Why that is the difference that should matter is beyond me-- why isn't it more important that McCain has sought out these warmongering preachers and specifically said their position on the Middle East is what he likes about them? Pretty scary!

But here's the larger point: If we kept religion out of the election campaign, we could just debate the issues, like rational people. After all, which is less likely, that the HIV virus came out of a government lab, or that the dead will rise from their graves? That Israel is on a course that is not likely to end well, or that God wants more West Bank settlements in order to set off a world war and bring on Christ's return? Empirical claims we can discuss and debate like citizens; religious beliefs, by their very nature, claim immunity from rational analysis. When men whose profession is the latter weigh in on the former, why should anyone take them seriously?

As Barack Obama has perhaps belatedly learned, the Democrats had it right the first time: Awesome,blue-state, red-state, whatever -- keep God out of it, and the men who claim to speak for him, too.

Why Tom Hayden Makes Me Scream

I want to do my bit for Obama, so I vowed I would give up attacking Obama-supporting progressives for the duration of the presidential campaign. No circular firing squads for me! Believe me, it hasn't been easy, and now Tom Hayden's "Why Hillary Makes My Wife Scream" has pushed me over the edge. Who cares what Tom Hayden's wife, the peaceful organic Barbara, feels when she watches Hillary on TV? Hayden is employing an ancient literary-political device, in which a man wards off charges of sexism by citing the example of a woman: I'm not averse to votes for women, but my wife, sir, won't hear of it! Barbara is female -- so that makes it okay for Hayden quote her comparing Hillary Clinton to "a screech on the blackboard" and Lady Macbeth. Because those are certainly similes that have never been used before! And that have no misogynist connotations, as in a woman who seeks public power is shrill and strident, a would-be despot who'll stop at nothing to achieve her evil ends, and is just so darn unlikeable, too. So bitter! As for Clinton flack "that Kiki person" -- when Hayden makes fun of a woman's girly first name and finds her just too ridiculous even to have a last one, that is not at all like rightwingers mocking Lani --Lani! ha ha ha! -- Guinier back in the day.

By rummaging in the tired old grabbag of male-chauvinist cliches, Hayden undermines the point he eventually gets around to making: that Clinton's attacks on Obama for guilt-by-association with Rev. Wright and Bill Ayres are vile and low and will come back to haunt her should she win the nomination. Not only is she alienating Obama supporters she'll need for the general election, she's inviting attacks on herself for her own past connections with leftwing figures and causes. Hayden calls on progressives to "send a message" to Hillary to "immediately cease her path of destruction." (Cease her path?) Fair enough.

Well, here's my message to Tom Hayden: Cease your path! Every time you and your fellow progressives write your sexist/nasty/catty garbage about Hillary Clinton -- and every time the Nation publishes it, which is far too often -- you alienate women whose energy and votes you will need if Obama wins the nomination. When you start talking about "millions" of young voters and black voters refusing to work for Hillary because of her unfair attacks on Obama you invite "millions" of women to say, well, why should I work for a candidate whose prominent supporters call my candidate Lady Macbeth?

Be the one you've been waiting for, Tom person. A man who respects women or if that's too big a stretch, who pretends to, for strategic reasons, at least till the election is over.

Dear Hillary...Love, Ralph

I have no idea whether Hillary Clinton should stay in the primary race or not. People who've done the math say there's just about no chance she can squeak past Obama, which would make it kind of pointless to keep going. But of all the people who could conceivably advise her to campaign till the bitter end, I'll bet the last person she'd like to hear from is Ralph Nader. I translate his letter, which John Nichols quotes approvingly in The Notion, as follows:

Dear Hillary,

I didn't care about the consequences of my 2000 run (not that I ever admit that there were any! Florida? Not my fault! ) and neither should you care about the consequences of staying in the primaries. Consequences is for sissies and people who don't care about the First Amendment and other high-minded stuff. Besides, the Democratic party is evil! If dragging out the primaries till June or July hurts it in November, so much the better -- you might do for the Dems in 2008 what didn't do (did not! did not!) in 2000. I understand exactly how painful it must be to have everyone crushing so hard on Obama-- he's bewitched a lot of my former supporters too, which I just don't get, since he is, after all, a Democrat, like, um, Al Gore. It's like they've forgotten that the parties are basically the same and that the most important thing is to just express yourself no matter what. In fact, if you lose the nomination, why not run on your own? that's what I'm doing -- it's fun!


Your new best friend,


McCain May Be Old, but He's Still a Threat

Liberal smarties and sophisticates are having fun mocking John McCain , but assuming he gets the nomination, he will a formidable candidate. He may look like a grumpy old man -- specifically, as my friend Kathleen Geier joked, the grumpy old man who yells at kids to get off his lawn -- or the nutty old uncle who rags on everyone at Thanksgiving before passing out in front of the football game. But that's another way of saying McCain is a familiar, indeed family, character. It does not require an imaginative stretch to get John McCain. How many voters know someone like Barack Obama?

McCain is white, male, patriarchal, a war hero with decades in the Senate. So what if he's old? In politics old can be good ( for men), especially to the older voters -- older white voters -- who dominate the polls. Besides, McCain's not so old that he couldn't get himself a much younger trophy wife, and even if Cindy McCain looks brittle and unhappy and like she hasn't eaten in a decade, she is always there by his side, a visual reminder of his manly prowess. McCain is brash and sly and seemingly unguarded, unlike the famously self-protective Hillary Clinton, and he loves to schmooze with reporters, who adore him and like most of the rest of America, refuse to see how conservative he is. It's like they're saying, Oh go on, Uncle John! you're just saying you love Sam Alito to get me riled up!

Obama v. McCain could be change/youth/black/exciting/internationalist against experience/maturity/white/steady/superpatriot. Put that way, it could come down to how many white male Democrats, who might vote for Hillary, won't vote for a black man, let alone one whose middle name is Hussein. They won't care about McCain's favors for business --too complicated, and anyway everyone does it -- and they certainly won't care if he had an affair with lovely lobbyist Vicki Iseman, as the New York Times sorta-kinda suggested. They might like him even better for that.

We've been patting ourselves on the back a lot for having a black and a woman vying for top spot on the ticket of one of the two major parties. November will tell us whether or not we have really come all that far.

A Campaign to Stop Stoning

Iranian judges apparently didn't get the memo about the moratorium onstoning issued in 2002 by Ayatollah Shahroudi, head of the judiciary.According to Amnesty International, nine women and two men arecurrently in prison awaiting this cruel and barbaric punishment, whichis usually meted out for sexual transgressions.

In May of 2006 a man and a woman were reportedly stoned in Mashhad and the government hasofficially confirmed the stoning on July 5, 2007 in the village ofAghche-kand of Jafar Kiani, convicted of "adultery" along withMokarrameh Ebrahimi, with whom he had two children. She has beensentenced to stoning also and is currently in prison with one of herchildren.

In the most recent case, two sisters, Zohreh and Azar Kabiri, havebeen sentenced to stoning for "adultery." (This sentence came afterthe ninety-nine lashes meted out for "inappropriate relations," which came aftera trial notable for its lack of due process.). Equality Now has the whole horrific story, with addresses of officials to address letterscalling for a ban on stoning and the decriminalization of "adultery."

The Iranian activist group Stop Stoning Forever has been pressing fora ban since the 2006 stonings. It was their network of volunteerlawyers, in fact, who identified the prisoners facing this punishment,and took up their cases. So far they have saved four women and one man;the sentence of another woman has been temporarily stayed.

The courage of these activists is breathtaking; several are currently underindictment for participating in a demonstration in support of women'srights. You can sign Stop Stoning Forever's online petition here.

Women Living Under Muslim laws has more information about the StopStoning campaign, and a sample letter about the case of the Kabirisisters.

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