Prof. Melissa Harris-Lacewell appeared on "Democracy Now!" on Jan. 14, 2007 in a debate with Gloria Steinem around issues of race, class and gender in American politics.
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Race and Gender in Presidential Politics: A Debate Between Gloria Steinem and Melissa Harris-Lacewell
In the race for the Democratic nomination, a victory for either Senator Hillary Clinton or Senator Barack Obama—as the first woman or African American Democratic nominee—would be unprecedented in U.S. history. We host a discussion on race and gender politics with feminist pioneer Gloria Steinem and Princeton University Professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell.
Gloria Steinem, feminist pioneer and bestselling author of several books, including Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions. In the early ‘70s she founded Ms. Magazine and New York magazine and also helped organize the National Women’s Political Caucus. More recently she co-founded the Women’s Media Center in 2004.
Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Associate Professor of Politics and African American Studies at Princeton University. She is author of Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought. She is at work on a new book called For Colored Girls Who’ve Considered Politics When Being Strong Wasn’t Enough.
AMY GOODMAN: The results from Iowa and New Hampshire have placed Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama as the current frontrunners for the Democratic nomination. A victory for either of them as the first woman or African American Democratic nominee, not to mention president, would be unprecedented in American history.
In recent days, their differences over foreign and domestic policy have taken a backseat. Instead, questions of race and gender have dominated the political contest between them. The debate came to a head over a comment made by Senator Clinton in an interview on Fox News.
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when he was able to get through Congress something that President Kennedy was hopeful to do; presidents before had not even tried. But it took a president to get it done. That dream became a reality, the power of that dream became real in people’s lives, because we had a president who said, “We’re going to do it,” and actually got it accomplished.
AMY GOODMAN: After Clinton made those remarks, Senator Obama and several others criticized her for minimizing Dr. King’s role in securing the Civil Rights Act. NBC host Tim Russert questioned Senator Clinton about this on Sunday’s edition of Meet the Press. Clinton emphasized race or gender should have nothing to do with the campaign.
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: This is the most exciting election we’ve had in such a long time, because you have an African American, an extraordinary man, a person of tremendous talents and abilities, running to become our president; you have a woman running to break the highest and hardest glass ceiling. I don’t think either of us want to inject race or gender in this campaign.
AMY GOODMAN: Today, we host a discussion on race and gender politics in the race for the Democratic nomination.
Gloria Steinem is a feminist pioneer, a bestselling writer. She founded Ms. Magazine, helped organize the National Women’s Political Caucus in the early ’70s, and in 2004 co-founded the Women’s Media Center. Gloria Steinem recently wrote an op-ed piece for the Times supporting Hillary Clinton. It’s titled “Women Are Never Front-Runners.” She argues Senator Obama could never have been a viable candidate if he were a woman and asks, “Why is the sex barrier not taken as seriously as the racial one?” Gloria Steinem joins me here in the firehouse studio.
Melissa Harris-Lacewell is Associate Professor of Politics and African American Studies at Princeton University. She is the author of Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought. She is at work on a new book called For Colored Girls Who’ve Considered Politics When Being Strong Wasn’t Enough. Melissa Harris-Lacewell is a Barack Obama supporter. She joins us now from Princeton, New Jersey.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Gloria Steinem, let’s begin with you. You laid out a hypothetical in your op-ed piece, in your column. Why don’t you lay it out for us here?
GLORIA STEINEM: Well, I was just—I think one learns a lot from parallels, and so it would be interesting to try to project what would have happened to Barack Obama in his life if he had been a female human being. I mean, I really think that we have seen historically that women of color, African American women, have understood—have been just in a better position, you know, to understand the roles of both sex and race, and it made me nostalgic for the days of Shirley Chisholm and campaigning for Shirley Chisholm.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean?
GLORIA STEINEM: Well, you know, it was so clear that, you know, because one didn’t have to choose between race and gender. And indeed, I am still trying not to choose between race and gender, because the basis of my choice was not that, but that, in fact, Hillary Clinton will arrive in Washington knowing how Washington works, because she’s had it written on her skin like Kafka in The Prisoner—wasn’t it?—when—and I think we can’t afford really—we’re in such dire circumstances that to have the first couple of years of Carter or even the first couple of years of Clinton again, who arrived in Washington not understanding how Washington worked. But if Barack Obama is the candidate, I will work for him with a whole heart. And I wish we had preferential voting, you know, so we can go one, two and three, at least, rather than having to choose only one.
AMY GOODMAN: You hadn’t originally come out for Hillary Clinton.
GLORIA STEINEM: No, my first column on this subject was essentially taking to task the media, who were asking us, trying to force us to choose prematurely and asking me, “Are you supporting Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama?” And I would always just say yes, because it seemed to me wrong that they were, you know, so forced on—so focused on this long before the primaries.
AMY GOODMAN: Melissa Harris-Lacewell, your thoughts on this discussion about race and gender?
MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, I mean, honestly, I’m appalled by the parallel that Ms. Steinem draws in the beginning part of the New York Times article. What she’s trying to do there is to make a claim towards sort of bringing in black women into a coalition around questions of gender and asking us to ignore the ways in which race and gender intersect. This is actually a standard problem of second-wave feminism, which, although there have been twenty-five years now—oh, going on forty years, actually, of African American women pushing back against this, have really failed to think about the ways in which trying to appropriate black women’s lives’ experience in that way is really offensive, actually.
And so, when Steinem suggests, for example, in that article that Obama is a lawyer married to another lawyer and to suggest that, for example, Hillary Clinton represents some kind of sort of breakthrough in questions of gender, I think that ignores an entire history in which white women have in fact been in the White House. They’ve been there as an attachment to white male patriarchal power. It’s the same way that Hillary Clinton is now making a claim towards experience. It’s not her experience. It’s her experience married to, connected to, climbing up on white male patriarchy. This is exactly the ways in which this kind of system actually silences questions of gender that are more complicated than simply sort of putting white women in positions of power and then claiming women’s issues are cared for.
Now, what I know from the work that I’ve done on the Obama campaign is that there are tens of thousands of extremely hard-working white men and women, as well as black men and women, as well as actually a huge multiracial and interethnic coalition of people working for Barack Obama. And so, for Steinem to sort of make this very clear race and gender dichotomy that she does in that New York Times op-ed piece, I think it’s the very worst of second-wave feminism.
AMY GOODMAN: Gloria Steinem?
GLORIA STEINEM: Well, it’s very painful to hear her say that, because what I meant was the opposite, you know, was to bring into the discussion the equal treatment of these kinds of questions, because—I mean, I didn’t want to write this. I was sitting there trying to do my own work and not do this, but I got so alarmed at the way that Hillary Clinton was being treated almost porno-–not just almost—pornographically, in ways that you can’t even mention in the New York Times.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean?
GLORIA STEINEM: Well, you know, that there were—there is pornography on the—you know, about her. There’s nutcrackers and with her legs as nutcrackers. There’s all kinds of—Chris Matthews saying, you know, if she hadn’t got the sympathy vote because of her husband’s affairs, she could never be in the US Senate. There’s people yelling in the crowd that—you know, “Iron my shirt!” or “Marry me!” or whatever it is.
And, you know, if we’re going to unleash the talents that we so desperately need in all of the country and do away with the system we have now, which has produced George Bush, who would be selling used cars if he didn’t have a famous father, if he weren’t white, if he weren’t rich—maybe not even selling used cars—we need to enlarge the talent pool in every direction. So my plea was really directed at the press to take all forms of discrimination seriously. And I’m very sorry if the parallel, you know, was not—didn’t make that clear in the beginning.
AMY GOODMAN: Melissa Harris-Lacewell?
MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Yeah, I absolutely agree that electing another president whose path to the White House is basically through either parental or familial connection is an absolute travesty for our democracy. Our democracy should not read—I don’t want my daughter, who’s six now, to go off to high school and read, you know, a story that says Bush, Clinton, Clinton, Bush, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton, Clinton, Bush, Bush, Clinton. I actually absolutely agree that we have to have a deeper bench in American democracy. And that’s part of the reason that I’m a strong supporter of Barack Obama.
This is not, I think, the moment to suggest that one is owed the presidency, that there is kind of a natural line of succession. I think that’s exactly what we don’t want in this country. What we need is a real conversation with people who are willing to be honest about sort of all of the elements of who we are as people: our citizenship, our race, our gender.
And I will say that I am really offended by the ways in which the Hillary Clinton campaign has not taken the high road on this. They’ve consistently used ways of thinking about her as Bill Clinton’s wife. You cannot have it both ways. You cannot both claim this sort of role as independent woman making a stand on questions of feminism and claim that your experience begins as First Lady of Arkansas. You know, you simply have to stand on your own or not. There are dozens of white women in this country who I would be a huge supporter of for the American presidency. The president of my own university would be at the top of that list, but not someone who is making this claim towards being president as her right as a result of a relationship with a former president. I think that’s exactly what we don’t need in third-wave feminism.
AMY GOODMAN: Gloria Steinem?
GLORIA STEINEM: Well, I do think that we need to be able to understand the value of all experience, including that experience which has been limited too much by race or by gender. And, for instance, there is a move at a populist level to attribute an economic value to the work of care giving, which is 90% done by women, but by some men, at replacement value and make that deductible if you pay taxes and, you know, refundable if you don’t, to understand the value of two-thirds of the work in the country, which is care-giving work. So just because it is a female role or just because it is a role that has been limited by race does not mean it was not a valuable—we need to be able to value that, as well.
But here’s my idea. There are good feminists, I think, you know, and good people inside all three campaigns, and that is a first, you know, because all of the candidates are—you know, we have differences, big differences, with all of them—or at least I do—but they are pretty good people. Their heads and their hearts are connected, and the issues are not too bad. So, you know, I’m hoping that because there are good feminists inside all three campaigns, we can join together and keep them from attacking each other.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to go to break, and then we’re going to come back. Our guest here in New York in the firehouse studio, Gloria Steinem; and at Princeton University, joining us is Professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell. She’s associate professor of politics and African American studies. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report. And we’d like to know how you feel. You can email us at email@example.com. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: As we talk about race and gender in presidential politics, our guests: in Princeton University, Melissa Harris-Lacewell, associate professor of politics and African American studies at Princeton; and joining us in our firehouse studio is Gloria Steinem, who wrote a New York Times op-ed piece.
And just for the record, the beginning of that piece read—let me just bring it up right here so I correctly quote it. It says, "The woman in question became a lawyer after some years as a community organizer, married a corporate lawyer and is the mother of two little girls, ages 9 and 6. Herself the daughter of a white American mother and a black African father — in this race-conscious country, she is considered black — she served as a state legislator for eight years, and became an inspirational voice for national unity.
“Be honest: Do you think this is the biography of someone who could be elected to the United States Senate? After less than one term there, do you believe she could be a viable candidate to head the most powerful nation on earth?” That’s the beginning of that quote.
Melissa Harris-Lacewell, as we were ending right before the segment close, you wanted to say something.
MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, only that, I mean, I am an unmarried working mother. I certainly understand, in a very intimate way, you know, the power and the value of domestic and caretaking work. But I also know very clearly a history that I believe Steinem’s piece attempted to distort, and that is that as white women moved into the workforce, much of that caretaking work did not go to white men who sort of took up and helped out, but it fell on women of color—African American women, immigrant women—who stepped in to do much of the domestic labor and childcare provision, so that white women could in fact become a part of the workforce. So to, for example, make an argument like black men had the right to vote long before white women is to ignore that black men were then lynched regularly for any attempt to actually exercise that right.
I just feel that we have got to get clear about the fact that race and gender are not these clear dichotomies in which, you know, you’re a woman or you’re black. I’m sitting here in my black womanhood body, knowing that it is more complicated than that. African American men have been complicit in the oppression of African American women. White women have been complicit in the oppression of black men and black women. Those things are true. And so, to pretend that we can somehow take them out of the conversation when a white woman runs against a black man, when she tears up at being sort of beat up by him, when her husband can come in and rally around her and suggest that we need to sort of support her because she’s having difficulties, while Barack Obama is getting death threats, basically lynching threats on him and his family, these are—for a second-wave feminist with an understanding of the complexity of American race and gender to take this kind of position in the New York Times struck me as, again, the very worst of what that feminism can offer—in other words, division.
AMY GOODMAN: Gloria Steinem?
GLORIA STEINEM: Well, I was trying to be, and I think, from the response I’ve been getting, I was mainly taken as, unifying. And the whole—the end of the piece, the context of the piece is that we need to take all kinds of restrictions seriously. So, you know, and I think the—I wish the rest of the paragraph about the black man getting the vote first had been there, because, in fact, as Sojourner Truth pointed out, if the coalition had remained together and white and black women had remained part of the drive for universal adult suffrage, it’s possible that there would have been less violence faced at the polls, because there would have been white women and black women coming to the polls together, if the coalition had stayed together. So, you know, my argument is for coalition and staying together.
And I must say, for conversations like these—I mean, you know, I think, you know, we’re conversing through a screen here, but I felt there was some more understanding now than there was when we started out, you know? And we need to have more of this conversation. And since I really believe the historical pattern is going to obtain and Obama is going to be the candidate, in fact—
AMY GOODMAN: You do think that?
GLORIA STEINEM: I do think that, yeah. I mean, who knows?
AMY GOODMAN: What makes you think that?
MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: What historical pattern?
GLORIA STEINEM: I think the historical pattern of, you know, military leadership in the White House, for instance, which usually has been men, and, you know, all of those things. So we’re going to end up working in coalition. And this is, in any case, the first election of the twenty-first century, which is a positive thing to me.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Harris-Lacewell?
MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, again, you know, this is a bizarre reading of history, this notion of sort of African American men somehow standing over and above white women. I’m just not sure exactly what history is being claimed here, particularly in electoral history. We know that there are far more white women in both the House of Representatives and in the US Senate than there are African Americans, either men or women. So it’s an odd sort of claim to make that Barack Obama’s gender is this kind of clear straight line.
What I do agree with is that we ought to be in coalition. But I think we’ve got to be in coalition on fair grounds. Part of what, again, has been sort of an anxiety for African American women feminists like myself is that we’re often asked to join up with white women’s feminism, but only on their own terms, as long as we sort of remain silent about the ways in which our gender, our class, our sexual identity doesn’t intersect, as long as we can be quiet about those things and join onto a single agenda. So, yes, I absolutely agree, we must be in coalition, but it must be a fair coalition of equals.
And it’s one of the things that’s exciting about Barack Obama’s campaign, working on it in New Hampshire, seeing it at work in Iowa, being a part of meetings here in New Jersey, is in fact that you cannot pick what an Obama supporter looks like. Obama supporters are young and old, black and white, male and female. And it is, in fact, the most sort of nurturing and coalition-building space I’ve ever had an opportunity to do political work in.
GLORIA STEINEM: Well, then that’s all the more reason that it deserves and probably will, you know, take the nomination. But I do think that to say—to give the women’s movement to white women is not historically accurate, you know, to give the second wave to it, because in my experience, the women of the National Welfare Rights Organization, you know, many individual women, were in the leadership of the women’s movement always. So—
MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Absolutely. I mean, I think women of color have been pushing back and challenging. But, I mean, to suggest that it was always just sort of about this clear sisterhood that didn’t have all of these anxieties would, I mean, be to ignore again sort of the best historiographies out there, as well as kind of the personal stories of women who were part of SNCC, the Black Panther Party, NOW. Again, not that black women are not a big part of thinking about reproductive rights, about thinking about voting rights, but it’s also been true that thinking about those issues has often required a silence—in the same ways, by the way, the civil rights movement has often asked African American women to silence their gendered positions in order to be in solidarity with the race.
I’m just suggesting that maybe if we look through the prism of black women’s experience and not just to try to use black women’s experience as a kind of, you know, look at how much harder it is for women, but instead to really try to understand that intersectional experience, I think we’d come to a clearer perspective.
GLORIA STEINEM: Well, I wasn’t making Barack Obama into a European American person. I was assuming that he would be in this hypothetical, which is a lead into an article to, you know—
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me ask—
GLORIA STEINEM: —that obviously he would be at this intersection—he would be both a female human being and an African American human being—and to consider that.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you the question about war and peace. I mean, the earliest community in this country, population, African Americans, the largest group who were opposed to the war from the very beginning and also iced out of the corporate media. Do you think that plays a big role here? I wanted to play this clip of Senator Clinton. She voted for the war in Iraq in 2002. This is some of what she said on the Senate floor at that time.
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: So it is with conviction that I support this resolution as being in the best interest of our nation, and it is a vote that says clearly to Saddam Hussein, “This is your last chance. Disarm our be disarmed.”
AMY GOODMAN: Now I’ll play a short exchange about Senator Clinton’s Iraq vote in yesterday, Sunday morning’s interview with Tim Russert on Meet the Press.
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: It is absolutely unfair to say that the vote, as Chuck Hagel, who was one of the architects of the resolution, has said, was a vote for war. It was a vote to use the threat of force against Saddam Hussein, who never did anything without being made to do so.
TIM RUSSERT: The title of the act was the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Tim Russert questioning Hillary Clinton. Your response, Gloria?
GLORIA STEINEM: Well, she said, “arm or be disarmed.” I mean, this is a conundrum. I utterly disagree with her vote, 100% disagree with her vote. If we had been in that position, being shown all this false information and so on, I don’t exactly know how we would have voted, but I certainly disagree with her vote.
AMY GOODMAN: And that issue playing in here in the race between Obama and Clinton, that Obama came out early opposed to war.
GLORIA STEINEM: Yeah. I think that that’s a great advantage for Obama, in fact. He wasn’t being asked to vote under the same circumstances. And in some sense, we need to compare votes that took place under the same circumstances in the time in which they overlapped on the Senate—in the Senate. But he was speaking out, and that’s very important. And it’s, you know, part of the reason that all this time when people said to me, “Are supporting Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama?” I always said yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Melissa Harris-Lacewell, you were in New Hampshire. We spoke to you right before the vote came in. At that time, the polls were saying Barack Obama was going to win. Your thoughts now?
MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, not only was I in New Hampshire, I was also in Illinois. I taught at the University of Chicago for years before coming to Princeton. So Barack Obama was my state senator. He was my US senator. So every time I hear people say he doesn’t have much experience, I find it extremely irritating, because it means that somehow representing me in my government meant very little experience. So I actually was there in Chicago and in Illinois when Senator Obama took those stands against the war, and I can tell you, it was not an easy thing to do. So I’m appreciative of having been represented by someone like him who had those kinds of positions.
I mean, what happened in New Hampshire, clearly Barack Obama brought in the percentage in the polls that he was expected to bring in. But a whole new group of voters showed up to vote for Hillary Clinton. It doesn’t look as though Barack Obama’s poll voters actually abandoned him. It looked as though they actually came and sincerely voted their interest, which I think is a great sign for the capacity of this campaign to move forward. But there was a whole new group of voters, mostly women of Hillary Clinton’s own generation, white women of Hillary Clinton’s own generation, who did show up at the polls and vote—cast a vote for Hillary Clinton. And that’s what put her over the top.
And I do believe that much of that had to do with this intersection of race and gender, the ways in which Hillary Clinton became discernible, understandable and recognizable to these voters in her moment of anxiety and stress, in a way that Barack Obama, as an African American man, remains alien to many white women. In other words, it’s just very difficult for them to see themselves in him. But again, 36% of that vote who claimed that they were going to vote for Barack did in fact show up and do so. So I think it’s good news for the Obama campaign, although it does continue to indicate the ways in which white women’s particular race and gender position can be of major benefit to them when running against an African American man.
AMY GOODMAN: Your response?
GLORIA STEINEM: Well, are white women being racist when they vote for Hillary Clinton? I do not know. We’d have to look into the heart of every person who’s voting.
MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: That’s not what I said.
GLORIA STEINEM: Alright, good, but—
MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Yeah, I—in fact, I’ve regularly said that I don’t think that naked racism explains this. He could not have gotten the kind of support that he got in New Hampshire. Again, what I’m suggesting—and this goes again to this question of complexity—is that our understanding and expectation of who white women are and how we respond to their suffering is quite different historically than how we respond to the suffering, anxiety and stress of African American men and women. So the people who said they were going to vote for Barack Obama apparently voted for him, that 36% . But a whole new group felt motivated to come out and vote for Hillary Clinton, and that seems to be related to her particular sort of performance on the Monday before the election. And that does seem to me to be indicated in questions of race and gender, without saying that these people are naked racists.
I’m incredibly impressed by the voters of New Hampshire, who take very seriously the trust in which the rest of us as citizens put into them to make a decision, because so often we are disenfranchised from the process, because the early primary system allows just a few voters to make these critical choices. And over and over again, the people of New Hampshire were very serious in how they were trying to gather information and make decisions. I would not disparage them by claiming they are racist. I would, however, say they’re part of the American historical system that responds to white women suffering in very particular ways, and it cannot see African American suffering in the same ways.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you, Professor Lacewell, I spoke to you on Jesse Jackson’s show, on Keep Hope Alive, when you were in New Hampshire. And afterwards, I spoke with Reverend Jackson about while—though he’s supporting Obama, he’s not out on the campaign trail for him. It was, of course, right before the New Hampshire primary. We were in New York. And he said basically that Obama was keeping him at arm’s length, and he was respecting that. Your thoughts?
MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, again, there’s a long Chicago history that goes way back here with these two gentlemen and sort of their relationship to Chicago politics. And we have to remember that as being just sort of the strategy of politics in general.
But the other part of it is, there’s no question that the Obama campaign has run as much as possible a non-racialized campaign. They are not running for president of black America; they are running for the president of the United States of America. And they, I think, have a recognition, from David Axelrod on down, the ways in which race can be polarizing.
I mean, I’m very glad that Ms. Steinem got such positive responses to her op-ed piece. I wrote a piece which hit Slate, in which I sort of made the similar arguments I made here, and I received death threats to myself, to my daughter. I was called a racist, even though I spend most of my hours, you know, working with privileged white students, who I love and adore and work very hard for here at Princeton.
So I have to say that the ways in which race, the moment it shows up, explodes campaigns is part of why the Obama race has sort of kept race at an arm’s distance. And so, many of us who are supporters but not part of the campaign are the ones who end up bringing up race, because the campaign itself does not do so.
GLORIA STEINEM: You know, it’s interesting to me, you know, also, what Melissa is saying, that—I haven’t looked at these polls in a couple of months, but it seems that African American voters are more likely than European—than white voters to think that Obama can’t win and that females, white females, are more likely to think that Clinton can’t win. So, you know, I suspect we’re each responding, or those groups are responding to their individual life experiences, so, you know—which supports what she’s saying.
AMY GOODMAN: Though—I mean, I don’t want to bring up any polls now, because we know how wrong they can be. Though when you look at this new ABC poll in South Carolina, it is shifted dramatically, the African American population, from being, when polled, supposedly—
GLORIA STEINEM: Yeah, because now it seems possible.
AMY GOODMAN: —well over 60% .
GLORIA STEINEM: Yeah. Now it seems more possible. So, in the absence of evidence, you know, now it’s changed.
AMY GOODMAN: Sam Husseini in Washington, D.C. raised an interesting question about pollsters asking the question, not who do you think will be president, but who do you want to see president—
GLORIA STEINEM: Mm-hmm.
AMY GOODMAN: —which would be—could be a very different answer.
GLORIA STEINEM: Yes. No, that would be very good. And I do wish we had preferential voting, too. I think a lot of Americans do at this moment in time.
AMY GOODMAN: And you mean by that?
GLORIA STEINEM: Well, I mean so that you could vote one, two and three. You don’t just have to bullet-vote one person, which contributes to this hierarchical nature, and so on.
MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Well, there was a person who put that out as a possibility, and that was Lonnie Guinier, who talked about all the ways—
GLORIA STEINEM: Yes, right.
MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: —in which we’d have a more fair and democratic system. And the Clintons walked away from her.
GLORIA STEINEM: Well, as an appointee, yes, they walked away. And I disagree with that, too. You know, I refuse to be—you know, we have to win this election, and we have to win our humanity, in addition and along the way. And I—you know, I refuse to be divided on this, you know? It seems to me that when—fundamentally, when we have to keep talking and keep honoring each other’s opinions and move against the forces that Nader just described.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Lacewell, that shift we are now seeing in South Carolina, if in fact the polls are correct?
MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL: Yeah, it’s probably two things. One, when the early polling was demonstrating among African Americans that Hillary Clinton was leading Barack Obama, a great deal of that had to do with name recognition. As Barack Obama has become increasingly a household name, a visible candidate, he’s moved up on everyone’s list.
The other piece of it is, unquestionably, sort of, I think, two dynamics around race in American politics. One is that as the voters of Iowa and New Hampshire have demonstrated a willingness to vote for a black candidate, it’s made African Americans more likely to be optimistic about his ability to win and therefore not to be throwing their vote away. There’s a lot of anxiety that you don’t throw your vote away; you have to back a winner. Now it looks like Barack Obama can be a winner. So you see more strategic voting on the part of African Americans.
The other part is that African Americans, early on, had a great deal of anxiety about Barack, because he had almost too much white support. In other words, he was getting so few questions about race that I think it raised some anxieties for African American voters, who were sort of asking, well, if there are all of these people in the media, if there are all of these white voters who are interested in you, does that mean that you’re not with us, that you do not share our interests, because historically, people who have been supported by these large coalitions have not been for the interests of African Americans?
So I think, increasingly, actually as sort of the racial attack machine shows up against Obama, I think this, in certain ways, is supportive of a black vote, who says, “Oh, I see. Actually, they’re not completely for you. They’ll send out people like Bob Johnson of BET to suggest, you know, terrible things about you and to disparage you personally.” And when that sort of attack occurs, I think it actually supports—increases the amount of support among most African Americans, although the key here is to remember, African Americans, like white women, are not a monolithic voting group. They do not make all decisions together. We don’t have a straw vote first and then decide who we’re going to support. We’re independent individual citizens making choices. And I’m excited that African Americans have a choice like this in this election.
AMY GOODMAN: Final word, Gloria Steinem?
GLORIA STEINEM: Well, I just think we have to be able to call each other up. You know, I mean, my friends who are working in the Obama campaign called me up and said someone, not Hillary Clinton, but someone for Hillary Clinton, an organization, was saying that Obama—was distorting Obama’s record on safe and legal abortion. And so, you know, if we can—backstage—and, you know, so I called up and tried to do my best to eliminate that distortion, to make sure it wasn’t happening. And I hope that having that on your television show now, we can call each other up, and when—you know, I can’t promise, and probably nobody can promise, to control a campaign, but at least if we have a kind of network inside the three campaigns—the three campaigns—we can call each other up when there are distortions, when there are things that are attacks that seem unfair.
AMY GOODMAN: The third campaign, you’re referring to Edwards?
GLORIA STEINEM: Pardon?
AMY GOODMAN: The third campaign?
GLORIA STEINEM: Is Edwards, right. And, you know, I think that’s important, because there are all these political consultants doing the opposite. You know, they’re trying to push them apart and trying to make them more aggressive. So I really would like to see a kind of third force of all of us who obviously share issues inside these three campaigns, who essentially say, if you don’t cut this out, you know, to the consultants, we’ll quit in public or do whatever we need to do to try to make it a campaign on the issues, more accuracy without false accusations.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to leave it there, and I thank you very much—leave it there for today, but continue this very important discussion. Gloria Steinem has been our guest in studio, well known for her pioneering work in writing, in feminism. Melissa Harris-Lacewell, professor at Princeton University, associate professor of politics and African American studies, she just returned from New Hampshire, where she was leading students in looking at the US democratic process.