Two mothers at our co-op playschool discussing the Democratic nomination race:

Mom 1: “I think I’m finally gonna break down and get an Obama lawn sign.”

Mom 2: “She is just so…grating.”

Mom 1: “Exactly.”

— only in this race would that conversation not be a total nonsequitur. I wish I didn’t know who these people were — and I wish even more that I didn’t know them to be mostly kind, reasonable people, albeit not very far-thinking ones (see: Christmas tree imbroglio of December 2007).

And me? I’m kind of bummed. As politicians go, I think HRC has a lot going for her, though she’s not at her best when campaigning. And I am still not at all convinced that Obama will do a damn thing. But mostly I’ve been too busy having a mysterious ailment that makes me pass out with migraines at 7 p.m., and so I have limited energy to care.

The good people over at Bitch, Ph.D are frothing at the mouth over Clinton tape in which Hillary compares her experience to McCain’s and dismisses Obama’s as minimal. That is just “fucking unacceptable,” the usually-measured B says, because we need to not tear down the competition in comparison to the opposition candidate; in other words, saying that Obama has less experience than McCain is tantamount to a McCain endorsement from Clinton (despite the fact that the Clinton camp has been vocal in saying they’ll support Obama if he wins the nomination, which the Obama camp seems to have some trouble swallowing).

Well, maybe I’m dense (it’s been well-established that my social sensors are not as finely tuned as some of you more emotional types; the INTJ blood runs strong), but it seems like a fairly mundane bit of campaign blather to me, not something to rend one’s garments or tear one’s hair over. I’m more worried about the Obama camp’s missteps, particularly Susan Rice’s epic claim that Obama and Clinton are “both not ready” (!!!!) to answer that 3 a.m. phone call. No matter how out of context that is, Rice’s words are phenomenally stupid, unless she’s a Republican plant. Because if there’s anything that says “Pick red!” to the undecided, unaffiliated voter hesitating between red and blue, it’s a Democrat claiming that her own people are incompetent on national security. Geez. “Yeah, we’ll fix the economy and give you health care, but then Al-Qaeda will come in and destroy your home and your children. But really. Elect us. Please.”

Of course, some people are accusing Clinton of fear-mongering with that ad, and they have an argument. But I’m pretty sure that in political campaigns, that kind of thing goes on all the time. Clinton is playing ball. Obama has taken a difficult position, one of trying to maintain the moral high ground, which means that whenever she throws him a particularly dirty pitch, he takes umbrage rather than swinging (and then his teammates, like the now-infamous Samantha Power, loyally start slinging mud under their breath and are shocked when their comments are overheard). It is, in a very interesting primary season, kind of a letdown.

But the larger issue that bugs me is this: why are the Clinton camp’s attacks on Obama so “divisive” and unforgivable, while the Obama camp’s attacks pass with nary a murmur? From where I’m sitting, they look pretty similar, but I’m stunned by the rage at Clinton I’m seeing. Where does it come from? And could it have anything to do with the idea that Clinton is held to an impossible standard because she’s a woman?

I’m not discounting racism. It’s as real and as destructive as sexism, and I happen to believe in reparative justice/Affirmative Action enough to think that voting for a qualified minority candidate partially because of his or her minority status (meaning gender or race) is a fine idea. But it seems we have an easier time giving Obama a pass for being black (at least the hypermasculine American white view of black males doesn’t totally conflict with the idea of being in power) than giving Clinton a pass for being a woman. And doesn’t that say something about which group, in the 21st century and beyond, will continue on as an underclass?

Think about it, women of color. As a woman of color myself, I sure am.

Well. The discussions of how misogyny and racism play into this Democratic primary keep on raging fast and furious. Mostly misogyny, because, as Robin Morgan points out, racists know better than to out themselves, but nobody thinks twice about a couple of slams on women.

However, I was part of a discussion on a blog I read occasionally this morning that demonstrated to me that racism, too, is alive and well in America. Here it is:

Let’s be honest – Hillary and Barack have made it this far because of their gender and race. The people who got forced out of the race were all more qualified and had better , smarter policies. If anything, we should be upset that gender & race preferences are leaving us with less qualified candidates.

Wow. Who knew that people felt so comfortable airing out their racism in public (as well as claiming superpowers that enable them to know the whys of things even the most seasoned political analysts can’t explain). To be fair, this was a comment to a post, not by the author of the blog. However, the author of the blog (whom I won’t name here out of a wish not to make anyone feel scrutinized, whom I had considered an enlightened and gentle person, and who started the discussion by asking why the backlash against women voters for Hillary seemed so much greater than that against black voters for Barack) chimed right in with:

[Name Redacted], that last paragraph? Very well said. I’m still chewing on it a bit, but I think you touched upon something very, very interesting.

Yeah. It’s very, very interesting all right. It’s very, very interesting that the poster in question feels completely comfortable claiming he knows that the reason Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have made it this far is because of preferential treatment based on gender and race, that they are the beneficiaries of some kind of wrongheaded Affirmative Action on steroids, that they are Not Worthy of being where they are and would not have been chosen if the white male candidates hadn’t been run out of the race so that The Powers That Be could prove they were p.c.

Apart from the problem that claiming there is any monolithic decision about whose candidacy survives is ridiculous (and the American people, even the rich ones who give a lot of money to campaigns, are hardly a monolith, as the fact that Mike Huckabee exists demonstrates), that statement is based on such deeply-rooted racism and sexism (and ignorance — does the poster think that Affirmative Action means “hiring lame-ass candidates who are token representatives of minority groups?) that all I can say is this:

I am ashamed. I’m ashamed to be in the same country as that kind of attitude — or in the same world. I am ashamed that bloggers who seem like nice, normal, kind people can swallow such racist claptrap with nary a murmur. I am ashamed to see the attitudes of educated, moderate people are so little removed from the type of violent racism that causes things like this to happen.

I’ve had a stomach ache for days due to being continually bludgeoned with woman-hating remarks about Hillary. Now my stomach is revolting with revulsion, disgust, and disheartening disillusionment at what this kind of attitude — particularly from my own peers — betrays. I don’t want to look at my children and know that this is the kind of attitude they will continually confront in their lives, for being minorities, for being female, for being anything other than cowardly, goose-stepping supporters of the fucked-up status quo. I don’t want to, but I have to — because I know that they will confront these attitudes and, worse, be the victims of them.

Because I have been confronting racism and sexism my whole life. Because I have been the target — as so many of us have — of racism and sexism my whole life, and I just got a big fat piece of proof that little has changed.

Earlier this week, I was going to write a post about how Obama’s victory in Iowa cast a whole new light on the primary, and, in fact, how it gave me hope where previously I had had none: not hope that America would see its first African American president, per se, but hope that America’s social politics had evolved to such a point where that would be possible.

You see, I am a Gen X person of color, and as such (both of such!) I’m cynical. Not only am I cynical, but I’ve had my cynicism honed to a surgical-quality blade by the many instances of casual racism I witness and experience every day. The effect of having this experience — of experiencing racism primarily as a victim or potential victim, rather than as a perpetrator — is a constant state of watchful pragmatism, a mentality of survival and of hoping for likelihoods rather than possibilities, the avoidance of false hope for fairness, or an equal opportunity in favor of an attachment to the notion that unequal opportunity will have to do (and while I thought Obama’s whole “false hope” rebuttal was great campaign strategy, even he must acknowledge that the social realities for the community he is cast as representing are such that avoiding false hope is crucial to survival). I recently heard a theory that part of the reason for the African American community’s higher rates of heart disease and stroke is that members of the community are in a constant state of stress causes by de facto racism everywhere they go, and this theory makes perfect sense to me. The connections between stress and heart disease are known, and it doesn’t take a big leap to understand that the tension of maintaining a reasonable level of self-protective vigilance, which is a condition of the lives of people of color and women in America, might well put undue strain on the system.

So my constant state of vigilance didn’t allow for the hope that America was ready for an African American president, a fact which many of the economically and socio-racially secure white Baby Boomers I know failed to understand in their rampant, privileged idealism; they were like, “Hey! How ’bout that Obama!” and I was quelling them with the Voice of Pessimism and Despair. And when Obama won Iowa, I felt the relief that comes when you realize that your world is a little more open, and little roomier, and little brighter than you had thought. And I wasn’t the only one. Just the other day, I dragged the family to IKEA to buy the sister-in-law a bed; as we went down the escalators discussing Obama’s “You’re the wave, and I’m riding it!” comment, and how that was simultaneously charming and corny as hell, an IKEA employee (demographics: young, white, chubby), interjected, “Yeah!” and we simulated surfing. Now, I’m not a big fan of the Midwest (sorry), primarily because whenever I go there, I feel overwhelmed by large blond persons who overflow into my bus seat and prefer to stock their restaurants with Beck’s and brats rather than Tsing Tao and har gow, and I hate brats, and then there was the time I drove from New York to Chicago on the 80 and passed innumerable “Meat: It’s What’s for Dinner” signs, which made me crave wheat germ and seitan. So Iowa really surprised me. It’s a wonderful feeling to think that the people of the Middle West have progressed so much farther than I’d thought. Maybe the next time I visit I can even find some food that involves neither pig intestines nor melted Velveeta.

Of course, I’m not the only cynic out there. Mihow expressed exactly the views I feared would dominate in a January 4 post. Here’s a quote: “I really believe that if it comes down to a white guy like Huckabee and a white woman or a black man, the knee jerk reaction, Democrat, Independent or Republican, will be to vote for the white guy. I agree with many that Obama is great, I may even vote for him. But is he electable? Put your personal feelings aside and really ask yourself that.” The gist of her post is that Huckabee must be stopped, and Edwards is a white guy, so everyone should vote for him because he’s electable and we all know, if we “put our personal feelings aside and really ask ourselves that,” that black men and women are not.

That’s the fear talking. And Mihow later amended a bit (maybe she, too, was influenced by the wave of optimism that Obama was riding). But fear is a powerful thing. Fear makes people ask for what they think they can get rather than what they really want. So when my well-fed white Baby Boomer colleague said, “I’m just so in love with Obama!” and I scoffed, that was the fear talking, my attempt at bringing his crashing idealism and naiveté back down to the bitter reality of my experience. And I was wrong, at least a little, because I never thought Obama would win Iowa, and while I view Hillary as a much less threatening (racially; she ain’t gonna start stealing all the white women!) and more establishment (Bill! Come on; Bill Clinton is everything we love about America: brash, big, expansive, idealistic, energetic; he’s also smart, even if he does, like America, have incredibly poor impulse control). So maybe I should listen more closely to the crashing naiveté of the Baby Boomers, because I’m really not in favor of acting on the fear that drives posts like the one above, and I’m underwhelmed by Edwards.

In fact, even Hillary’s New Hampshire win today has put me in a good mood (there is always the possibility that I took one of K’s happy pills instead of my multi this morning). And now that we’re seeing the softer side of Sears on that front, maybe she’ll even get elected, if she can tread that fine line between bitch and wimp. A dear friend of mine refers to her as “Cruella,” and I’m not sure where that comes from, except that I can’t dismiss the obvious explanation of it having to do with the fact that he is a white male probably at this very moment eating at the Country Buffet in rural P.A., maybe followed by some deer hunting or a belching contest, and therefore thinks that all women trying to ascend to power are castrating bitches. Probably the explanation is more complex than that, but if it isn’t, all I can say is I hope someone sics that castrating bitch on the Republican frontrunners on her way to the Oval Office. Because Bishop Romney, Mike “I Heart Medieval-style Patriarchy” Huckabee, and Big “We are a Christian Nation” Mac’s politics are so far on the flip side of the social progress that both Obama and Clinton’s leads evince that I wonder just how schizophrenic our nation has become — and when it’s going to get that lobotomy.