At first glance, you’d probably guess that I would proudly don a “Feel the Bern” T-shirt and make a generous donation to the democratic socialist firing up the Democratic Party. Born to leftists themselves born to leftists, I am what is known in some circles as a “red-diaper baby.”
My immigrant Jewish grandparents met in New York City, at a meeting of the Young People’s Socialist League on the Lower East Side, and I grew up more familiar with the words to labor anthems than to those of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” My mother was an activist in the civil-rights movement who later engaged with feminism, antiwar activism, and the vast panoply of progressive issues that ebbed and flowed through our national politics over the past half-century.
In other words, I come by my democratic socialism organically and deeply. And truth be told, I am not immune to the gruff charms of Bernie, which are as familiar to me as the radical Passover seders that punctuated my childhood. His sharp critiques of wealth inequality and unfettered corporate control of the political process were articles of faith at my own family’s dinner-table debates. And his Brooklyn cadence and pedantic self-righteousness remind me of… everyone I knew growing up.
For those of us on the left, the pressure to join the Bernie Express is intense. Friends and colleagues, casual Facebook acquaintances and lifelong political allies alike, all throw up their hands in despair or sneer in disgust if you don’t pledge allegiance to the candidate whose strength and broad appeal in the primary has been both surprising and energizing to progressives used to “holding our noses” and voting for the lesser of two evils. Never mind that I will gladly vote and work for Bernie if he is the nominee, and I applaud the way he has pushed Hillary to the left. For refusing to back Bernie in the primary, I’m a dupe and a traitor; I’m a tool of (take your pick) imperialist, war-mongering, militaristic, in-the-pocket-of-Wall-Street corporate hacks.
So why do I support Hillary—and in the fairly resolute manner that I do? (Because, at the very least, serious leftists and feminists are supposed to carry our support with heavy hearts, wishing she were more like Elizabeth Warren and less like Margaret Thatcher.) Yes, I’ve read most of the critiques of her, and, yes, I’m aware of her record and her complex, often vexing history. But I am no more ambivalent about her than I am about any American politician who will inevitably be found wanting in any number of crucial ways.
Here’s why: I want a woman president—and, no, not any woman president. Hillary is not, as her detractors would have it, Margaret Thatcher or Carly Fiorina—or Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann, or some other female candidate whose platform rests on antipathy to any feminist concerns. Like most in the Democratic Party, she is a centrist. In her political orientation, deep intelligence, and policy wonkishness, she is similar to Obama—and not as dissimilar to Bernie as one might imagine. Still, I support her less for her specific political positions (some of which I agree with, many of which I do not—all of which are far superior to the racist/sexist/xenophobic sideshow that is the Republican primary field) than for the iconic value of electing the first woman president of the United States.