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A House Divided

When the election hits home, what’s a parent to do?

Marjorie Ingall
February 01, 2016
Photocollage: Tablet Magazine/Shutterstock
Photocollage: Tablet Magazine/Shutterstock

I vote the way my parents voted. I hail from good liberal stock. In my kindergarten model election, I voted for McGovern and was horrified when my best friend voted for Nixon. It made me reevaluate our whole friendship.

I’d always assumed my children would carry on the tradition of voting the way their parents did. After all, we talk about politics a lot in our house. I’ve always taken at least one of my daughters to the polls—I’m usually wearing my fabulous purple plaid uterus skirt from Etsy—and my kids have been well-versed in feminism and social justice and the fight to end systemic racism and inequality. (I look forward to your hate mail, conservative readers! I will perform it aloud in a dramatic slam poetry session with my colleague Liel Leibovitz, who will be reciting hate mail from our liberal readers!)

But this year I’m not sure whom to vote for. I’m leaning Hillary, but I’m not 100 percent on board. My 14-year-old daughter Josie, however, is 100 percent in the tank for Bernie. I’m both jealous of her certainty and sad that she’s not interested in sweating and reading and pondering the right choice along with me. I feel a little left out.

Why does Josie love Bernie? “His politics and liberalism have been consistent over many years,” she told me while I was making dinner. “I think he’s a better friend than Hillary to marginalized communities, in every single way. Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour is vital, and it will help a lot of women and people of color. Being a woman doesn’t inherently make someone better for women; if you automatically think female candidates are better, just vote for Carly Fiorina. And I really want full healthcare coverage for all citizens. I understand that people say Bernie’s plan lacks specifics, but I don’t agree that that he is too liberal or that he can’t get things through Congress. Basically, him being elected could change our dominant culture of decision-making, as long as people who support his more radical policies continue to vote.” (She made air quotes around the word “radical.”) (I should also note that my daughter was also the 9th ranked middle-school public forum debater in the country. This is the way she talks.)

(Photo courtesy of Marjorie Ingall)

(Photo courtesy of Marjorie Ingall)

Josie loved a 1995 C-Span clip a friend forwarded her, depicting Bernie defending gay servicemen after a Republican representative called them “homos.” Bernie was on fire as he all but demanded the floor. “Now, my ears may have been playing a trick on me, but I thought I heard the gentleman say something about homos in the military,” he said, articulating each syllable. “Was the gentlemen referring to the many thousands and thousands of gay people who put their lives on the line in countless wars defending this country? Was that the group of people that the gentleman was referring to?” The gentleman in question started to say he was talking about the way the military doesn’t support the current bill, and Sanders interrupted, “That’s not what we were talking about. You used the word ‘homos’ in the military. You have insulted thousands of men and women who have put their lives on the line for this country.” Compare this to Hillary’s seemingly slow support for full LGBT rights, and, well, Bernie comes off a lot more endearing and passionate about something my family cares deeply about.

Unlike many young people, however, Josie is not enticed by Bernie’s likelihood to end the federal prohibition on recreational marijuana use. I am told that easy access to the dope, the giggle smoke, the ganja, the bhang, the yerba, the sinse, the bobo, the chiba, is a big lure for the youth of today. However, this is not one of my daughter’s vices, which currently include excessive use of Tumblr, snarky texting, an addiction to emo bands, and an inability to feed the cats even though that is her job and the cats get sad. She is a high-school freshman, and she may feel differently about the demon weed by the time she’s a senior.

I do think what she and many young people respond to about Bernie is the sense that he’s authentic. He calls ‘em like he sees ‘em. He sounds like somebody’s zayde, ranting in an awesome Brooklyn accent, if somebody’s zayde were a badass, fearless legislator. Hillary comes off as guarded, careful, calculating. I get that. In 2008, I waffled for months before deciding to vote for Obama in the Democratic primary, because Obama felt more genuine and open. He inspired passion in a way Hillary didn’t. I felt it would have been wonderful to have a woman president, but it would also be wonderful to have a black president, and Obama’s hopey-changey thing—in the words of a certain gleaming-eyed spangly-sweatered bitter-clinging gun-clinger—resonated with me. (After Obama won the nomination, I got to see Hillary in person, at an all-women’s event, and saw an entirely different side of her. She was loose, sly, funny as hell, and she made me cry as she fervently and passionately told the audience to get out there and vote for her Democratic rival. Where was this woman when the cameras were on, and when she actually had a shot?)

Stuck as I am, I’ve been reading every link on Facebook to every article that makes a case for Hillary or for Bernie. Every time I finish a pro-Bernie piece, I #FeelTheBern. Every time I finish a pro-Hillary piece, I am woman, hear me roar. I am a leaf on the wind. And we all know how well that ended up.

For a while, I was texting Josie links to every pro-Hillary thing I read. I saw this as engagement; she saw it as hectoring. The last straw for her was when I sent her an editorial by the former editor of the very liberal Burlington Free Press in Vermont, who called Bernie “pious, self-righteous, and utterly humorless.” (And “sour”! And “moralizing”! And lacking the temperament to be president!) After I sent that one, Josie texted me back (yes, in caps, without punctuation): WHY DO U HAVE TO CONVINCE ME IM 14 IM NOT VOTING IF U WANNQ VOTE HILLARY VOTE HILLARY.

I found this unsatisfying.

I also felt pathetic, like a dopey old lady chasing after a dewy teen hipster trying to get her to bond. Suddenly I was Amy Poehler’s character in Mean Girls, desperately chirping, “I’m not a regular mom! I’m a cool mom!”

My kid is entitled to some distance. But if I can’t engage with her, I’ll drey by myself (and you, the reader, can listen in as I go back and forth). The passion that Bernie has stirred up, especially among the young, is exciting. If he does indeed galvanize coalitions of progressives and disenfranchised folks and small activist groups and then keep them engaged, he really could create the meaningful change he espouses. But then I read something that points out that Hillary was one of the most liberal members of the Senate when she served (to the left of 70 percent of Democrats during her last term), far more liberal than her husband, and barely more moderate than Bernie. She supported the Iraq war (though she has apologized—grudgingly) and is far sounder on gun control than Bernie. Hm. Bernie has always been against mandatory minimum sentencing for nonviolent offenders, but Hillary has moved there. So, is it more impressive to be sure of your positions from the start, or to evolve with time?

A smart piece in Mother Jones noted that Bernie’s and Hillary’s current positions on issues are pretty similar, but Hillary tends to talk about using executive action to push through stuff she wants done, while Sanders tends to think about trying to get Congress to pass an ambitious legislative agenda. MoJo points out that executive orders and federal instructions carry risk—the next president can start working on Day 1 to undo them all—and also more possible reward, since counting on a Republican-controlled Congress to do what a Democratic president wants hasn’t generally gone fabulously in the past.

And it’s an open question about which of them would be better for Israel. Bernie is a Jew whose father’s entire family was wiped out by the Nazis, and if I hear one more time about how he did a stint on kibbutz, I will smother someone with a kova tembel. Hillary has approximately a zillion times more foreign policy experience than Bernie, and more support from the Jewish establishment, but some Jews still view her with suspicion as being too pro-Palestinian.

In general, though, it seems the two prospective nominees differ more in how they’d approach the presidential gig than in what they strive to do in it. They also differ hugely in style. As I said, Bernie comes off as a brave, blustery, straightforward old Jewish dude, while Hillary’s smile can look as glazed as a stale doughnut, and her answers to questions often seem rehearsed and pat.

And some people really hate that. In The Nation, Joan Walsh pointed out a cringe-inducing moment of the last Town Hall meeting: A gum-chewing young man told Hillary that his peer group just isn’t into her and thinks she’s dishonest. “I’d like to hear from you on why you feel the enthusiasm isn’t there,” he concluded. Walsh pointed out, “I’m not sure I can unpack all the condescension in that question. I heard a disturbing echo of the infamous 2008 New Hampshire debate moment when a moderator asked Clinton: ‘What can you say to the voters of New Hampshire on this stage tonight, who see a resume and like it, but are hesitating on the likability issue?’ Yes, the ‘likability’ issue. I found myself thinking: Not again. Why the hell does she have to put up with this again?”

Indeed, just how is she supposed to seem more likable? If she were perky, she’d be told she looked un-presidential and dim. If she bellowed like Bernie, she’d be seen as a loose cannon. On my own Facebook page, when my friends and I were talking about the two contenders, a female friend laid out her case for Hillary and a man dismissed her, starting with “If you’d like to be taken seriously … ” (My friend responded, “Ohhhh, is that what I have to do to be taken seriously? Good to know.”) A certain subset of men won’t ever take women seriously, just because they’re women. That includes young men—like the Town Hall questioner—who presumably think they’re super-evolved. And among some young women, who do take other women seriously, there’s a lack of historicity about just how hard it’s been, historically, for women in politics. They may not see that Sanders dismissing NARAL and Planned Parenthood, which both endorsed Clinton, as “the establishment” is shocking. Women’s issues were once considered fringe issues. Given the new threats facing reproductive rights just about every day, are these organizations really so “establishment”?

In any case, I’m not quite sure why my daughter and I are so tense with each other about Hillary vs. Bernie. I suppose divisions like this are part of the necessary process of separation. I want Josie to grow up and be independent and think for herself … but I’m melancholy about being left behind at the same time.


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Marjorie Ingall is a former columnist for Tablet, the author of Mamaleh Knows Best, and a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review.

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