I was doing laundry yesterday, and while channel surfing in search of something non-football-related to watch, I stumbled upon the UCLA rally. I missed Caroline Kennedy and Oprah, but lucked out and switched to CSPAN just as Michelle Obama began to speak.
She was amazing — funny and smart and fierce — to those who say there’s no there there but empty rhetoric, all I can say is that’s the family I want in the White House — people my age, who just paid off their student loans (which Michelle Obama pointed out had only happened because Barak wrote two best-selling books, and then she wryly mentioned that “this is not a viable financial plan”). Most important though, I want these two people who continue to say that it’s not about them, it’s about us. That it’s about building an America where we all feel that we have a stake, and a chance, and where we’re not each in it alone, but we’re all in it together. She had a lovely bit at the beginning of her speech about how we’re so isolated, that we’ve lost sight of the fact that we all have the same problems — aging parents, health insurance, our kids’ schools, finding decent work, building a life and weathering the storms. That we’re all more alike than we are different.
But the thought also occurred to me as I watched this smart woman my age, a woman who reminded me of all the smart women I work with at the Big Corporation, a woman who has had no onus on her to prove her wifely bona fides — that in some ways it’s because Hillary Clinton took the heat 15 years ago for being a wife with a career and an independent identity that Michelle Obama’s credentials and jobs now seem entirely normal. No one makes any fuss over the fact that she’s always had a job, a good job — or that she has degrees from Princeton and Harvard. We’ve come that far at least.
And I think to an extent, Oprah is right — that we’re at a point where we have a black man and a white woman running neck and neck for the Democratic nomination shows that we have won many battles.
Myself, I am not torn by the sort of identity politics issues that Rebecca Traister writes about this morning in Salon — my problems with Hillary stem as much from generational gripes as from anything else. I’m tired of the 1968 generation, and part of me can’t help thinking that the Clintons had their chance and they blew it. I’m tired of finger-wagging candidates who keep telling us they know what’s best more than we do. I’m tired of Democrats who so want to be right that they can’t reach out to people who don’t agree with them. I’m tired of litmus tests and playing defense and internicine squabbles about which one of us is the true progressive, liberal, Democrat.
I want new life, new energy and a new way of thinking that takes into account the possibility that we can all be a little bit better than we’ve been told we can be. I want leadership — not just competence.
I want someone who keeps me standing in my basement after the clothes are folded, riveted by a speech that dares me to believe.