Signs of the Times

Last night the Write on Mamas, a wonderful group I belong to, held an Open Mic Mamas event in a local cafe. The theme was “Plan B: Now What Do We Do?” Here’s my essay:

After the primary season was over, I kept two “California for Hillary” signs on my desk in our kitchen, where they were safely hidden and kept nicely flat under a box of books.

“I’m going to frame these and give them to the girls for Christmas!” I told my husband.

“Maybe for Emma,” Jonathan remarked about our eldest, who has a penchant for memorabilia.  “But Ally will hate it.”

“That’s not the point,” I snapped.

I had grander considerations than what the girls might actually like. Maybe I’d even crack the picture frames’ glass for special symbolic significance marking the historic event to come on November 8!  Continue reading

Election Day

It was disconcerting Tuesday morning to walk downtown through the Hub, a big intersection that is crammed with people waving placards for every cause and candidate every election day. The Hub was deserted. Certainly our small town in its deep blue bubble was not a place to expend national resources, but no one? Not even people vying for highly competitive local races? It was as if the election weren’t even happening, except for a Trump/Pence bumper sticker on a parked truck a block away, and a handmade poster complete with horns and a pitchfork that read “Hellary 2016.”

Despite these ominous signs, I was sure I’d be celebrating the election of our first female president that night. The polls were looking pretty good, despite the FBI’s damaging salvo. During my final phone banking shift, when we were making calls to Florida, one supporter I spoke to told me her seven-year-old daughter’s class held a mock election, and Hillary had won in a landslide.

Then came another inkling of trouble that I also dismissed. A man told me that his first-grader was one of only ten Hillary voters in her classroom’s poll. “This is a blue county,” he said, “And Trump blew her out of the water. I am so frightened.” I told him about the woman I’d just talked with, reassuring myself if not him. A few hours later, as I headed off to our friend’s house with a plate of scrumptious chocolate layer bars and a bottle of bubbly, the closeness of the Virginia returns was worrisome. But I told myself that the northern suburbs had not yet come in, and remained confident.

As we tuned in to MSNBC, CNN, even Fox, looking for a different reality than the one that seemed to be unfolding, I started fielding texts from our daughter:


“Keep the faith,” I texted back. “It will just be closer and a longer night than we’d hoped.”

Two hours later, as Stephen Colbert’s national wake ended on Showtime, I had dropped all optimism, all pretense of maternal comfort, unless “Fucking unbelievable” counts as reassurance.

Our host took the dog out to pee, and upon his return reported that the party at the neighbor’s house seemed oddly raucous, unlike our gloomy gathering. My husband and I left a bit before 10:00, still with no verdict, but with our champagne unpopped and our hearts broken. Some people were leaving the party across the street, and we heard a voice call out, “White men rule!” We tried to convince ourselves that we might have said the same thing in an ironic attempt at gallows humor. But we could not deny that they were celebrating, while we were in shock and mourning.

I know that I must engage in soul-searching to understand what I missed, and why. I must acknowledge my own failures of empathy, my candidate’s poor choices, the legitimate concerns of those who voted for her opponent. There are a million different converging factors that have resulted in this outcome, and I know that blaming it on racism and misogyny is overly simplistic and insulting. Still, it is naive to deny the powerful influence of these virulent strains. They are here in my own backyard.

This is our deep blue bubble. This is my deep denial. This is where we live.


What was your election day and night like?

When Will It Be Over?

giant-meteor-2016Please! Make it stop!

That’s how a lot of people are feeling about the 2016 presidential election. So I had to chuckle when I saw the novel solution to this endless and demoralizing campaign season proposed on the above bumper sticker.

Still, planetary annihilation seems a steep price to pay, especially when you consider that the race will actually end one way or another in just a few weeks.

So rather than clutching our heads and moaning, “When will it be over?” a better question is “When it’s over, how do you want things to be?”

For me, the choice is easy.

For starters, I’d like a president who actually believes that climate change is real, so will try to do something to prevent planetary annihilation.  Or not bring it about more catastrophically than even a giant meteor would:

“I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.”  — Tony Schwartz, the repentant ghostwriter of  The Art of the Deal, in conversation with Jane Mayer of The New Yorker.

On a less dire note, I’d like a president with steadiness and grit.

I’d like a president with lifelong dedication to public service and fighting tirelessly to improve the lives of children, women, families, and ordinary Americans.

I’d like a president who will appoint Supreme Court justices who will uphold a woman’s right to choose and overturn Citizen’s United.

I’d like a president who will build upon and improve Obamacare so that everyone can have high-quality and affordable healthcare.

I’d like a president who will make college more affordable and create good-paying jobs for the world we live in now.

I’d like a president who is famous for the ability to listen, do the homework required to understand complex issues, work collaboratively even with people whose views are different, and find solutions to vexing problems.

I’d like a president with experience, heart, keen intelligence, and respectability on the international stage.

I’d like a president who doesn’t insult and mock people, incite violence and prejudice, cheat people, lie routinely, drive businesses into the ground, and require 24/7 attention.

That’s why I’m voting for Hillary Clinton. And spending my free time volunteering to help elect her.

Sure, I’m not thrilled about her hawkishness or the self-inflicted wounds we sometimes see. But even if she’s not my ideal candidate, I’d vote for her even if I didn’t think her opponent would be an unmitigated disaster whose elevation to the highest office would reward and reinforce all that is worst in America.

Fortunately, I like and admire Hillary, and think she’d make an excellent president. But if you share only my misgivings about Trump and not my enthusiasm for her, you can still vote while holding your nose.

That’s it. That’s the choice. No third-party votes or staying home to “send a message.”

Because that message might result in President Donald Trump.

I’d rather withstand a giant meteor.





bernie and hillary signs (multiple)On the morning of the California primary, I waved my “Hillary” sign at a major intersection during rush hour. When my shift was over, I stopped to chat with two young women on the opposite corner who were holding “Feel the Bern” signs.

“Did you go to the rally last night?” I asked, referring to Bernie’s final get-out-the-vote push in San Francisco.

“Yes! It was so amazing!” they exulted.

“That’s so exciting!” I said, adding before I went off for my morning latte, “As long as we all come together in November.”

Although I meant it sincerely, I must have come across the way every middle-aged mom comes across to children wary of criticism disguised as sweet talk. Their tone darkened immediately: “If we do, Hillary owes us big time.”

I thought of these young women as I watched the Democratic Convention, struck by how young so many attendees were. They had come full of hope and passion, the tears streaming down their faces as their hero Bernie took to the podium. I recognized those rapt faces, those tears. A long time ago that had been me (albeit in my living room, not on any convention floor) soaking in the glory of my hero, George McGovern, incredulous and heartbroken that our noble mission had fallen short.

But I was also myself as I am now: an older woman who felt horrified by the lack of respect and decorum these same young convention-goers showed as they booed and jeered the speakers.

Then I thought of another indecorous young person—my daughter. When Emma was in high school, a classmate’s mother died. My husband and I were away at the time, but when we returned we learned that Emma had attended the memorial service wearing a hot pink wig and a matching sequined mini-skirt that barely covered her privates.

Horrified and ashamed, I lamented my daughter’s inappropriate behavior to a friend.

“Well,” that friend responded. “At least she showed up. That’s what matters.”

Thank you, Bernie supporters, for showing up, with all your passionate, rowdy, heartbroken, idealistic, organized, and chaotic fervor. You have improved the debate, improved the platform, improved Hillary, improved the country. We do owe you big time. I hope you continue to show up.

That’s what will matter, in November and beyond.

Getting Out the Vote

Bernie and Hillary signsOn Sunday I got lost in the hills of a nearby neighborhood canvassing for my candidate in the Democratic presidential primary. This is not something we Californians normally do, since the contest is usually put to bed by the time we vote in the primary. And since California is the deepest shade of blue among the blue states, hand-to-hand combat with our neighbors in the fall is unnecessary. Mostly we just write checks and work the phones so we can disrupt people’s dinners in swing states.

This year, though, friends and neighbors are passionately divided over Hillary and Bernie, who are neck and neck in the fight for California’s cache of 475 delegates. Victory (or defeat) is of highly symbolic if not mathematical importance.

I have liked both Sanders and Clinton from the beginning. Both have significant and different strengths and vulnerabilities. For a long time I was undecided, and certainly thought I could vote any which way in the primary because it wouldn’t really matter.

I no longer believe that. And I am no longer undecided.

I am proud to be walking neighborhoods and voting for Hillary Clinton. She has greater depth and versatility than Sanders, and would be more effective at governing and moving a centrist country toward progressive solutions.

Bernie has been a valuable spokesman and motivator for the defining issues of our day. At one point I would have loved to vote for him in the primary.

But Republican leaders, in keeping with their damaging “party above country” stance, are now falling all over themselves to support a candidate they know to be unfit and unqualified for any office let alone president. Democrats can no longer afford to stay in their usual favorite formation, the circular firing squad.  I’m all for the primaries playing out, and for Sanders having a big say in the platform and at the convention. But an ongoing two-flank battle for the nomination itself is a foolish pipe dream that only weakens Hillary (who has legitimately won millions more votes and nearly 300 more pledged delegates than Sanders).and strengthens the Republicans for the fall.

I’ve decided to work hard and vote for Hillary now not only because I think she’d make the best President, but so she’s in a strong position to take on Trump.

My friend Ruth used to say, “My heart’s with Bernie, but my head’s with Hillary.” I know many people whose heads and hearts line up for Bernie, and now Ruth and I both count ourselves among the many whose heads AND hearts line up for Hillary. If you are still divided  within yourself, please consider what I am saying, and choose Hillary for California.

Most important, no matter how you vote in the primaries, vote Democratic in November.

Vote Democrat

Electable Enough?

Bernie and Hillary signsThese are exciting times for those of us who reside in the dark blue bubble of the San Francisco Bay Area. Like the parents of teenagers, we’re used to being ignored by presidential candidates unless we’re being asked for money. But this time, our votes almost matter. That’s an unfamiliar feeling.

We’re also unfamiliar with impassioned disagreements among hitherto like-minded friends and neighbors. Now we get to experience what the good citizens of Ohio routinely practice—living peaceably through constructive persuasion alongside people who hold stupid and wrong different beliefs.

Take, for example, my Friday hiking buddies, who are Feeling the Bern. As for me, all I feel is heartburn at the prospect of any Republican in the White House.

“Okay, I’m officially undecided,” I said to my friends last fall. “The thing I care most about is electability. Persuade me.”

“I don’t give a damn about electability,” responded Gary. “I’m tired of voting for the lesser of two evils!”

“Same here,” chimed in Sharon.

Then Gary decided to turn up the charm on his undecided prospect: “One thing I’ve never liked about you,” he railed at me, “Is how willing you are to compromise your principles.”

Reading my mind before I could even open my mouth, Gary added for good measure, “And I don’t care about the Supreme Court!”

Like I said, this was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. Justice Scalia was still alive. The presidential prospects of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were widely viewed as DOA. But as this crazy primary season has unfolded, all bets are off about who’s the most electable.

On most days, it seems like even I could beat Donald Trump. But given Hillary’s earned and unearned negatives, Bernie, pointing to national polls, argues that he’s the better candidate to prevail in the general election.

I’m still not feeling the Bern, though.

I love Bernie. He has assumed the mantle of electoral politics that the Occupy movement unwisely shunned. I am grateful to him—as I am to Occupy—for articulating issues like economic injustice, and for making Hillary a better candidate. I ought to feel as Sharon did when I first asked her if she was supporting Sanders: “He stands for everything I believe in? Why wouldn’t I support him?”

George McGovern stood for everything I believed in back in 1972. I supported him with the fervor so many of my friends now feel for Bernie. Like them, I was convinced that our righteous cause would prevail. How could it not? I still remember the disbelief I felt, the tears I shed the day after Richard Nixon creamed him. Those who lived in the one state McGovern carried coped by affixing bumper stickers that said, “Don’t Blame Me: I’m from Massachusetts.”

I do not want the cold comfort of a bumper sticker that reads, “Don’t Blame Me: I Voted for Bernie.” Because even though polls show that Sanders currently does better than Clinton in the general election, Bernie will likely get creamed once the Republican attack machine gets going. Besides, most of his supporters aren’t willing to pony up the taxes his proposals require. And even if they were, there’s that inconvenient truth known as Congress mucking up the political revolution.

I want a strong and competent Democrat in the White House who will get there with the votes of people more moderate and hawkish than I am. I want incremental progress rather than a failed revolution. I want the balance on the Supreme Court to shift left. I’m ready to skip the high hopes—and crushing disappointment—the candidate of my dreams evokes. Been there, done that.

I want Hillary. She’s highly intelligent, dedicated, a hard worker, and an indefatigable champion of women, children, families, and the middle class. She’s a credible player on the world stage. She knows how to govern. Besides, we need Bernie to remain a potent voice for change, a voice best amplified by remaining an outside critic.

I’m reminded of Henry David Thoreau’s words: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” Hillary Clinton can be the foundation upon which Bernie Sanders and the movement he’s sparked can continue to build.

But no political revolution or incremental progress will come about if Hillary and Bernie supporters who are duking it out right now stay home come November. These bumper stickers I saw today say it all:

So whether you’re Ready for Hillary or Feeling the Bern, get out there and vote!

Political Rupture

woman burning in hell (2)At a rally for Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright declared, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” A fierce debate about gender, the generational divide, and feminism in presidential politics ensued. There’s a fundamental psychological dynamic at play as well: the idealization of female solidarity and the corollary difficulties women often experience when differences emerge.

Women are celebrated for their emotional intimacy. Statements like, “We get one another completely”; the sharing of secrets, clothes, and gossip; even jokes about women going en masse to the bathroom make clear how much women prize connection.  This “urge to merge” can be viewed as an aspect of female identity formation and the longed-for return to the blissful state of maternal-infant union. Nothing is quite as delicious.

But it’s also a set up. When women are not supposed to feel, let alone talk, about their differences, there’s no room for conflict, and no vocabulary or practice for resolving it. Difficulties go underground, leaking out in ways that often lead to rupture. Thus differentiation is experienced as betrayal, and standing apart from the group risks social suicide. My daughter discovered this in college when, tired of looking for housing with eight (!) other women, she considered leaving the group. The anger and accusations of disloyalty quickly convinced her otherwise. It turned out that none of the women really wanted to live in such a large household, but no one knew how to say so without hurting anyone’s feelings or being seen as a traitor.

This loyalty/betrayal split is now being played out in presidential politics. Albright’s remarks typify idealized notions of female connection that make no room for difference. She reminds us of the dangers women face if they stray from the fold. (Never mind that the halcyon days of blissful union have never really existed: the very women’s movement Albright exalts was itself torn apart by conflict.)

Predictably, when Albright consigned to hell women who disagree with her, all hell broke loose. As long as those who differ are seen as traitors, with only a narrow range of women’s emotions and choices deemed acceptable, all hell will continue to break loose.

But perhaps there’s hope. As younger women reap the benefits of their foremothers and are able to speak up, speak their minds, and stand apart, strong feelings and disagreements won’t be quite so likely to go underground, then erupt. Instead, polarization might give way to dealing directly and respectfully with the differences that enrich women’s complex and very human experiences.


What have your experiences been with female solidarity and its discontents?



Good-Enough Hillary


I miss 2008. That was the year when Democrats, at least for a little while, could feel good about any number of presidential candidates. Wasn’t it great while it lasted?

Now Democrats have one unannounced candidate for 2016. I’d like to feel good about Hillary Clinton, or at least less uneasy. But I’m afraid emailgate is just a preview of what is to come. Maybe there’s an issue, maybe there isn’t—it doesn’t seem to matter, because Clinton herself becomes the issue. Not only her diehard enemies but her would-be supporters join in the feeding frenzy. So I’m trying to step away from the Democrat’s favorite formation: the circular firing squad.

In a Nation issue from last November assessing a potential HRC candidacy, Joan Walsh, Salon’s editor-at-large, wrote:

If Hillary Clinton runs and wins, she will be a good enough president. Not progressive enough for me, by any means, but as progressive as anyone currently electable. I expect to vote for her—if not in the Democratic primary, then later, in November 2016. That’s it. That’s my endorsement. . . . . . . My willingness to accept Clinton as a Democratic presidential nominee doesn’t stem from any great passion for Hillary herself—though I respect her—but from my aversion to the impotent game of “Let’s find an insurgent candidate who will topple a centrist front-runner!” played by the left every four to eight years. It’s a colossal waste of political time and energy.

That’s how I feel. Besides, I’d like to skip the crash this time round. Sure, the initial euphoria of the 2008 election was great. But I and many others projected such high hopes onto President Obama that disappointment would have been inevitable even if the Republicans had not undermined him at every opportunity. Why not save myself a whole lot of heartache and start out with realistic expectations?

It’s like first love versus the older-but-wiser variety: not quite as fervid, but a sensible choice.

Ready for Hillary? first thought was, “I guess she’s running,” when I heard about Hillary Clinton’s highly publicized criticism of President Obama’s foreign policy in The Atlantic.

My second thought was of Dick Cheney—not that Hillary’s comments are in the same league as Cheney’s relentless attacks. But there’s the same failure to take responsibility for a mess both helped create in launching war against Iraq. Plus a knee-jerk hawkishness and reliance on the illusion of American exceptionalism. This dismays me about Hillary even more than her dissing of the President.

My third thought was to wonder if Joe Biden is really too old, his candidacy truly unviable.  Or if a bid for the presidency by Elizabeth Warren would make Nixon’s 1972 rout of George McGovern look like a cliffhanger.

I want to be pragmatic, to bank on winnability. That’s why I was not an early supporter of Obama, believing that a black man whose name rhymed with Osama bin Laden could never be elected President. Gradually I saw how this view was less pragmatic than borderline racist and certainly self-defeating, enabling the very views I abhorred. I became a fervent admirer of Barack Obama, and worked hard for his 2008 and 2012 victories. I thought highly not only of his policies, but also of his intelligence, calm demeanor, decency, and capacity for nuanced thinking and self-reflection. Most of all, I loved that Obama appealed to the better angels of our natures.

Now I am not so confident that the better angels of our natures can prevail. It is a futile endeavor, but one I undertake anyway, to wonder if President Hillary Clinton might have succeeded where President Barack Obama has been stymied. Mostly I think not—the economic and foreign policy disasters are too immense, the virulence toward Hillary almost as strong as the virulence toward a black man. Perhaps there would have been no difference.

But the one thing I reluctantly come back to again and again is that Hillary might have done better because she is more hard-nosed. She would not have wasted time and energy trying to make friends with a Republican Party hell-bent on destroying her. She might also have more room to maneuver as a white woman than as a black man in a country that is arguably more racist than sexist.

Pragmatism counts, and Hillary is nothing if not pragmatic. She’s smart, hard-working, dedicated, and, unlike faux feminist candidates like Sarah Palin, a true champion of women’s issues. Some of her personal qualities, however, give me pause as well as hope.

I’m not sure I’m ready for Hillary. But what are the alternatives?


How do you feel about Hillary and the presidential prospects for 2016?