The pundits got it all wrong on Tuesday. Most thought that Barack Obama would beat Clinton in New Hampshire. But they were clearly wrong, proving again that voting is still very important. If anything the last eight years have proven this point time-and-time again yet the majority of us still do not take the franchise very seriously. There are many reasons offered for our voting passivity, some valid I am sure, but much of this is just disinterest.
I have listened to ministers, both liberal and conservative, urge their flock to vote on the basis of some kind of biblical appeal. I see no clear and obvious argument for such in Scripture. I have never missed a major election and make almost all the minor local ones as well. But I do this not out of guilt that I might break God’s law if I do not vote but out of a sense of freedom to express my views and to help elect leaders who I think can best govern our nation, state and community. This is not my Christian duty but my being a good public servant who cares about others, which is itself rooted in Christian thought at a deeper level. This is, at the most elemental level, democracy at work. I embrace it and wish that more did. If we ever lose the franchise the reason will be our own lack of will to preserve it.
New Hampshire reminded us of how the people can still speak in an election. Hillary Clinton was written off by opinion makers and pollsters. Now she proclaims, "I found myself." Maybe. We shall see. I expect nothing will change except that she will be more politically astute and find better advisers.
For those who think her tears made the difference I have seen no hard evidence for this but I am not of the mind that she "wept" simply to make a point. I read her tears more as a display of narcissim than as a cynical manipulation of an election. Her words tell the real story. Watch the video again and listen to what she says. She clearly believes she is the best person for America and that her campaign suffers because hateful people make it hard for her to reach her goal of becoming the president. There is a feeling in all this of entitlement.
This raises another interesting question that I raise in a totally non-partisan way. "What do Hillary Clinton and George W. Bush have in common?" No one wants to talk about this but it is their last name. They both came into the race with recognizable names. When George W. Bush began his campaign in 1999 he had not done a whole lot in public service but he had a name. I am not saying he had done nothing as governor of Texas and I would not say Mrs. Clinton has done nothing in the Senate. But neither of them stood out for much of anything. But they both sold themselves as "change agents" when in fact neither was so much about change as about legacy and name. If you research Bush’s positions, when he ran in 2000, and Hillary’s now, you will find precious little that shows exceptional insight or creative ideas. And both lacked certain political talents that have become evident over time. Bush was more likable than Gore and that seemed to work in the end, even though he lost the popular vote in 2000. Clinton has a real problem here: She is NOT popular with a large number of people. When people are polled about whether or not that like her it appears that almost 50% of America does not. Such numbers are staggering. Even the untested Bush did not have this problem in the general election.
So why did Clinton rally and win on Tuesday? The data from the exit polling says she garnered the most "last minute" voters and these voters were heavily women. Even black women voted for her, interestingly enough, while black men voted for Obama.
We have a huge gap in this country. Men and women vote very differently. Obviously you and I can cite all kinds of anecdotal exceptions to this divide but the numbers do not finally lie. We not only have a racial divide, that is centuries old, but a serious gender divide that is only a few decades old. No one running for office can or will fix this division. It is too deeply rooted in things that politics can not fix. I, for one, I am grateful for the gains that women have made financially, personally and politically. I reject sexist stereotypes and embrace a moderate egalitarianism. I want my gifted daughter to have the same choices in public life as my gifted son. But I think social engineering is another matter and the gender wars are with us for the foreseeable future. Anyone who thinks electing Clinton or Obama, or a Republican nominee, will fix this is not living with much awareness of the real influences in our culture.
I wish we could have a real discussion about femininity and masculinity without recrimination or stereotypes. I doubt we will have this anytime soon. The Church ought to think about how it can lead the way in such a discussion. For the time being I am not holding my breath since the Church responds to all this pretty much the way the general culture does, with little awareness of the meaning of words and the nuance of this important and life-changing debate.
Take evangelicals as one illustration of my point. We fight over issues like the TNIV Bible or whether women can speak in public before men in conferences and seminars, etc. One recent letter I got revealed a reaction from a conservative Christian to a very excellent book on economics on the sole grounds that the author used gender non-specific language. (I have done this for years and find most have no problems with it unless they are already out of the loop. We are thus often discussing issues that make no sense to even most conservatives. Is there a healthy, moderate and biblical response to all of this? I think so, but then many do disagree with me. My seeking for moderate positions and a meaningful and broadly conservative position on many issues is seen as dangerous to those on my right and stupid to some on my left. This is what divides us.
We are an open society and no single ideology will simplistically prevail. Obama and Clinton can’t fix it. I tend to think they believe that they can but if they believe this in private they are either naive or messianic in their hopes.