Friday, February 15, 2008

"Obama represents women's best hope"

Helen P. Howell and Vicki Wallen, Seattle P-I op-ed:
Given the disastrous results of the Bush administration, including our immersion in an unjustifiable war, an economy on the verge of a recession, loss of respect and stature in the global community, and increased suffering at home, the need for fundamental change in the quality of our country's leadership is essential.
Like many women, we would be excited to help elect a woman president. At this pivotal moment in our history, however, the gender of our next president is not our foremost concern. Because of the troubled state of the union, our priority is for the Democrats to select as our nominee the candidate who is best positioned to win in November, and to navigate our nation out of the current morass, unite us and move the country forward.

We are a diverse group of women who have spent years working for equal rights, social justice and a powerful political voice for all women. Two of us are women of color, and one of us is a lesbian. All of us are mothers with a deep concern for the future of our children and our nation.

Sen. Barack Obama is the candidate with the energy and vision to lead our country in these difficult times -- to make our nation safer, restore our standing in the world and inspire Americans to be active participants in our democracy. He transcends the cynical politics of yesterday and inspires us to believe that tomorrow can be better. His message of hope and unity, his character and integrity, his keen mind and thoughtfulness, his belief in people and his optimism inspire us and move us to action.

He speaks directly and authentically to the broad range of issues that we care about, including the war in Iraq, poverty, education, equal opportunity, health care and the environment. His experience as the son of a single mother, husband of a working mother and father of two young daughters has given him a firm understanding of the challenges and concerns of working women and their families, as well as a firm commitment to addressing them.

Obama's unique background and experiences allow him to identify with the diverse circumstances and struggles of others, thereby lessening the divisions among us and enhancing our shared beliefs.

The fact that he is a unifying leader rather than a technocrat adds to his appeal. We agree with him that our country must be brought together before significant policy changes can occur. Certainly, no president can do it alone. An engaged electorate and strong, active coalitions are needed to overcome stalemate and create new possibilities and change. Obama is uniquely able to bring potential allies -- including independents and Republicans -- together.

Hillary Clinton, unfortunately, is perceived as a more polarizing figure in our country, and we fear she will unify and energize the right wing of the Republican Party. Furthermore, while perhaps a master of policy analysis and the mechanics of the policymaking process, neither of those strengths will help her unite a fractured country or overcome gridlock to achieve fundamental change.

Our other major concern about Clinton is that she has demonstrated a troubling propensity to compromise some core Democratic principles. When we consider, for example, her vote to authorize the war in Iraq, her absence and silence during the 2006 battle to defeat the South Dakota abortion ban (Obama was the only U.S. senator to assist with fundraising efforts for the campaign against the ban), and the racially charged comments by her and her husband during the campaign for the South Carolina primary, we easily choose Obama as our candidate.

We are free, as feminists, to choose the candidate who speaks to our collective aspirations. Barack's community organizing and advocacy work demonstrate his passion and commitment to the issues that matter most to us.

As mothers, we are also struck by the powerful way in which Obama has energized young people. One of us, the daughter of Aki Kurose, a lifetime civil rights and peace activist, who fought for many of these same issues, has two children who will be voting for the first time in November. They are thrilled by Obama's candidacy and have become active in his campaign. Obama understands that engaging the next generation is crucial to the destiny of our nation, and he has empowered young people to lift their voices and shape their future. Like Aki Kurose's grandchildren, they have responded by participating in the nominating process in record numbers.

Obama is the leader we need now. He represents our best hope to lead America into the future.

Helen P. Howell has served as counsel to U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and serves as a national board member for Planned Parenthood. Vickie Wallen has served as the state ombudsman for families and children and as a senior policy adviser and legal counsel for former Gov. Mike Lowry. Ruthann Kurose also contributed to this column. She is a founding member of May's List, a political action committee established to elect women leaders to state office.
Howie P.S.: Two more posts today about Michelle Obama: "Michelle Obama Thrives in Campaign Trenches" (NY Times) and "Michelle Obama, interviews with Katie Couric" (video).

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