Obama’s Mother-Daughter Divide

by Andrew Kessinger on February 16, 2008


Much attention has been given to the fact women make up the largest and most reliable voting bloc of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign thus far. Less analyzed is why youth, including younger women, are not a significant part of that coalition.

Across the nation, older women appear frustrated that their younger counterparts are being won over by a perceived newcomer, Barack Obama. They are left wondering if the youth hold any regard for the hard-fought social advancements made during the women’s liberation movement. Fearing past progress will go to waste if the nation’s first viable female president isn’t supported by women of all ages, for them it’s now or never to put a Ms. in the Oval Office.

And perhaps they’re right. This might indeed be the last time women over the age of 65 have the chance to rally behind a female candidate with a fighting chance to win. But the youth do not seem persuaded by such do-or-die forecasting; in their minds, not only is it less-shocking to have a minority running for President, but very conceivable to happen again.

The younger generation—thanks to the strides made before them—is less bound by the social struggles of their parent’s past. They have been raised to look beyond gender and racial identities, and free from such discrimination, are in a sound position to choose the candidate that most represents the America they believe in.

And choosing they are. The turnout of voters under the age of 30 has nearly tripled in many of the primaries held thus far. On Super Tuesday, more than 3 million young adults cast ballots. The political apathy normally exhibited by this demographic has been transformed into an engaged activism. As well it should. After all, it is as much—if not more—their generation that will have to live with the results.

Feminists have done an admirable job over the last few decades ensuring the “glass ceiling” was shattered in the workplace. And there is no doubt that Hillary herself has made history in this regard, most notably through her formidable run for president. Working this angle, her campaign seems to suggest that she’s best poised to bring about revolutionary change—by becoming the first female president and continuing in this tradition.

But young voters demand much more. They desire a president who will restore their civil liberties, end the war in Iraq, curb lobbyist influence and repair America’s standing in the world. The need to elect the first minority in the White House doesn’t top their list.

They are inspired and enthused by candidates who appeal to their “post” mentalities: post-partisan, post-racial, and post-gender. Claims to which historically-marginalized group most “deserves” higher office—no matter how legitimate they might be—don’t necessarily resonate with a generation that has grown up in a post civil rights, equal opportunity era. Such contests seem rooted in self-pity rather than merit, and Obama—perhaps because he himself is from a “post-racial” family himself—is the only candidate unwilling to make his minority status a selling point. This is one of the reasons why his campaign is so exciting. With his conciliatory and unifying rhetoric, Obama offers our nation the ability to put aside such prejudicial infighting.

It would be presumptuous to assume older women are voting for Hillary solely because she is a woman. But for those who might be—even subconsciously—examining their daughters’ choices could draw a surprising lesson. Could it be that the feminist ideals for which women fought so hard, namely that gender shouldn’t be a determining factor in job selection, are finally being realized through the next generation?

If so, such liberated thinking will undoubtedly produce future confident, qualified women presidents—as well as the progressive men and women willing to vote them into office. Now that is a change worth supporting.

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