NOW Flogs Kennedy For Obama Endorsement

The tension has been simmering for awhile but yesterday it boiled over.

"Endorsement Monday" was teeming with surprises and an old-fashioned "battle between the sexes" when one of the National Organization for Women (NOW) NY chapters came out swinging.

Coming off the heels of a landslide victory in South Carolina, Barack Obama struck gold yesterday with the holy trinity of Kennedy endorsements: Senator Ted Kennedy, Patrick Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy. Both Clinton and Obama sought out the endorsement of the second longest-term Democrat in the Senate, Ted Kennedy.

I have had no allegiance to any of the candidates, preferring instead to remain outside the fray. So it was Ted Kennedy's endorsement that caused an "ouch" under my breath (as in "Ouch, Hillary, that's gotta hurt!"). But Toni "Bill Clinton is the first Black President" Morrison throwing her support behind Obama is pretty much a door-slam in the face of the Clintons.

South Carolina's primary brought Obama 55% of the vote to Clinton's 26% which, looking back, is no surprise considering the Clinton's less than thoughtful – some might say racist – rhetoric in the days leading up to Saturday's event.

How many ways can you wear desperation? Here are just a couple:

  • Bill Clinton remarking that Hillary doesn't have a chance in South Carolina because many African-Americans would vote for Barack because he's black.
  • Hillary Clinton implying that Lyndon B. Johnson should be given more credit for civil rights gains than Martin Luther King. Jr.

Hillary and Bill Clinton have been integrally involved with the struggle for civil rights for many years and have clearly proven themselves to be deeply committed to the cause – which makes their recent comments all the more astounding and thoughtless.

This particular New York chapter of NOW sent a scathing letter to Senator Kennedy chastising him for his endorsement of Barack Obama:

"Women have just experienced the ultimate betrayal. Senator Kennedy's endorsement of Hillary Clinton's opponent in the Democratic presidential primary campaign has really hit women hard. Women have forgiven Kennedy, stuck up for him, stood by him, hushed the fact that he was late in his support of Title IX, the ERA, the Family Leave and Medical Act to name a few. Women have buried their anger that his support for the compromises in No Child Left Behind and the Medicare bogus drug benefit brought us the passage of these flawed bills. We have thanked him for his ardent support of many civil rights bills, BUT women are always waiting in the wings."

The letter is more than an indictment of Kennedy's choice, it contains the exhaustive anger of an organization that has made Ted Kennedy, and a host of white men and the organizations they run or help to run, the scapegoats for a nation's inability to ensure equality and justice for its female population.

Named in the indictment are Howard Dean, Jim Dean and the progressive web site

"And now the greatest betrayal! We are repaid with his abandonment! He's picked the new guy over us. He's joined the list of progressive white men who can't or won't handle the prospect of a woman president who is Hillary Clinton (they will of course say they support a woman president, just not "this" one). ‘They' are Howard Dean and Jim Dean (Yup! That's Howard's brother) who run DFA (that's the group and list from the Dean campaign that we women helped start and grow). They are Alternet, Progressive Democrats of America,, Kucinich lovers and all the other groups that take women's money, say they'll do feminist and women's rights issues one of these days, and conveniently forget to mention women and children when they talk about poverty or human needs or America's future or whatever."

Senator Ted Kennedy's outstretched hand to Obama is not a slap in the face to feminism. Just as an endorsement of Clinton by Alice Huffman, the head of the California NAACP, is not a slap in the face to civil rights for African-Americans. Isn't this race supposed to be about unification and the understanding that both candidates would do much for both women's rights and civil rights? And what about where those two collide? Like say, for African-American women, Latina women, Asian American women, Native American women, Pacific Islander women?

Has the leadership of this NY chapter of the National Organization for Women become so blinded by their allegiance to a female candidate that they believe that being female – across race, ethnicity, culture, age and class – automatically means support for the white woman running for president?

I am a strong and ardent feminist and believe me when I say I understand the anger and frustration in NOW's letter.

I believe that the campaigns do not address women and the impact of the economy, war, healthcare issues, and immigration on women as much as they should. I am angry that the campaigns do not address the lack of access to affordable childcare or access to contraception or the state of our crumbling abortion laws or how the global gag rule affects women around the world or how pouring billions of dollars into failed abstinence only programs means our young women are more prone to teen pregnancy.

But I cannot believe, as Emily Bazelon writes in Slate, that Hillary Clinton is my only choice, as a female voter in this country. I cannot believe that Hillary Clinton is the only choice for voters – male or female – in this country who believe in equality, justice, and dignity for women of all races, ages, ethnicities and income levels.

In fact, Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America in her "message to pro-choice voters" writes,

"Let me be clear: Here are the facts pro-choice voters need as they head to the polls, whether this weekend in South Carolina, on "Tsunami Tuesday" to vote for the Democratic Party's nominee, or on November 4 when we all vote for the next president of the United States: Sens. Clinton, Edwards, and Obama are fully pro-choice. NARAL Pro-Choice America endorsed all three candidates in their previous campaigns. All of the candidates have voted pro-choice; have publicly affirmed that they are pro-choice; and have taken actions that back up their pro-choice voting records and statements."

However, despite Obama's victory in South Carolina, Hillary Clinton still has a lot of support from white, black and Latino voters. An endorsement by Senator Kennedy is not the end-all-be-all nor is a win in South Carolina.

Matt Cooper believes Hillary has an excellent chance on Super Tuesday to bring in some key delegates from states like California, New Mexico, New York and New Jersey.

But the underlying issue – the tension that rose to the surface yesterday and that continues to percolate – is whether we all fall prey to pitting race against gender on the Democratic ticket. In that scenario, no matter how much this NOW chapter and others who believe that a candidates' gender trumps all women will surely lose.

To read the full text of this NY chapter of NOW's letter, go to

For more on Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, visit our candidate pages.

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  • invalid-0

    This post starts out by saying that the statement in question came from the New York State chapter of NOW. But subsequent mentions refer only to NOW and the National Organization for Women. Before people form an opinion of the entire organization, they should read the national NOW statement at .

  • invalid-0

    I will make changes to the post to clarify that it is a NY chapter of NOW that sent the leter and may not reflect the views of the entire organization.

    For what it’s worth, I support NOW in its global efforts and recognize the enormous contributions NOW consistently has made and continues to make to raise the status of women in this country.

    I take issue with the letter, however, as it does not speak for me as a feminist, a woman, or a long time voter.

  • invalid-0

    Barack Obama and his ability to unite the nation beyond the identity politics of old, the divisive politics of quotas that puts tokens at the table but still prefers top-down politics of the Clintons will bring women further faster by uniting not dividing.

    The era of divisive politics is over. Hillary should have stood on her own than having relied on her husband to do her bidding.

    Kennedy was right, NOW’s investment in the identity politics of the past is part of the problem progressives have, aqnd need to get over.

  • harry834

    I hope you don't mean acknowledging the realities of inequality towards women, gays,people of color, and other minority groups, because while the list may be long, the injustices are longer – and not for us to abandon

    What do you mean by "identity politics"? By "divisivness"?

    That said, I have positive hope for Obama, and am partially leaning in his favor. I'm an undecided.

  • invalid-0

    Bill Clinton is certainly hurting his wife’s campaign. The main problem with his support is that he is undermining the main thrust of Hillary’s argument: that she can lead on her own without her husband’s help. Even worse, it certainly does not bode well for her argument that she is her own person as she tries to convince the American people that her Senate seat is not due to who her husband is. Check out the following link for excellent coverage on the debate surrounding Bill.

  • invalid-0

    By identity politics I mean exactly that, but not in the way you may think. We have been through a generation where it was important for different groups to make sure they were seated at the table so that all races, genders, orientations are heard and participating at the highest levels. But the promise Obama holds is that his leadership takes us to the next level, not discounting these groups, but elevating them and making our politics about the whole, rather than the parts. The divisiveness of the Clintons and the 90’s was necessary to combat the right, the right is now on the run and we can bring liberal ideas and constituencies together in a way many didn’t think possible one year ago. But one year ago Hillary was the inevitable nominee. Now Obama shows us a different path, one that brings healing rather than division, one that brings races, genders, orientations and faiths together rather than perpetuating the politics of the past.

  • invalid-0

    As an African American woman, I hate the assumption that women must stand with Hilary. And if I don’t folks look at me like, oh I understand you’re black. Shouldn’t we vote for the person that we think can lead our country? Why does it matter who most looks like us, or what will be historic? Shouldn’t you vote for a candidate who’s policies you support?

  • harry834

    I'll probably meditate on what you said, but I like it so far.

  • invalid-0

    Barack Obama’s commitment to equality and justice for all, which is the true goal of feminism, is further made manifest in his life choices. Barack Obama solidly stands with those who maintain that in order to eradicate any form of oppression, we must address them all, and that the way to do so is by standing with the people and empowering them to fight the oppression themselves, while simultaneously remaking the institutional and societal structures that perpetuate oppression. He shares a similar understanding of the dynamics of oppression developed among feminist and other liberation theologians through decades of grappling with the issue; to me, his is by far the strongest feminist stance. The feminism espoused by Ms. Pappas and others like her represents a narrower, far less effective approach, which is too focused on one form of oppression to adequately address any.

  • invalid-0

    I think it is unreal to expect Obama to end “divisive politics.” We have a partisan system and a culture that seems to love conflict. Obama and his supporters haven’t transcended the nastiness of this primary season; they have said all sorts of horrible things about Hillary. (Of course, Hillary has said all sorts of horrible things, too.) If Obama becomes the Democratic nominee and then the president, do you really think the Republicans are going to join with him in a happy show of unity?

    Remember that Bill was supposed to bring people together in 1992. Instead, Republicans investigated him and went after anything they could. No matter how good Obama is, I promise the Republicans will find all sorts of stuff to attack.

    I find some of this talk about Bill sexist. As a former president, he has a unique and high profile as a spouse. But Obama’s and Edwards’ spouses have been very vocal. They are smart women, and I have no doubt they help their husbands. I can’t imagine any feminist would think that Hillary can’t govern without the help of her husband.

  • http://have.none/really invalid-0

    Hillary did NOT say President Lyndon Johnson’s contribution to civil rights was greater than Dr. Martin Luther King’s. She tried to point out the importance of the presidency in the civil rights struggle by saying it took President Johnson’s signature to make civil rights the law of the land, or something to that effect. Her comment did not minimize Dr. King’s role. This is about the most misunderstood quote in recent history. Misunderstandings are just as deadly as intentional malice.
    Please squelch any attempt to pit race against gender in this campaign. Both are on our side.

  • invalid-0

    I must agree with the commenter above who pointed out that Hillary did NOT minimize Dr. King’s contribution. The spin is that she minimized his contribution; in reality she said something we all know from experience – even the most effective and positive change-making movements need the help of elected officials – “decision makers” – to become law. That is why some of us spend so much time lobbying elected officials – because we need them!

    Because this error verges on such a sensitive topic – racism – I really believe RH Reality Check needs to clarify that Hillary did not minimize Dr. King. RH Reality Check is a deliverer of fact, not spin, and it would be a positive contribution to the debate if you printed the whole quote instead of paraphrasing it.

  • invalid-0

    … “the holy trinity” of Ted, Caroline and Patrick Kennedy?

    Patrick can be called many things, but “holy” is not one of them.

  • invalid-0

    Hillary Clinton did say that we needed a president to turn MLK Jr.'s dream into a reality – that it takes presidential leadership to turn the push for civil rights into legislative reality.

    I do believe, however, that in the context of the presidential campaign, Clinton's poorly worded and poorly timed remarks (in my opinion) could be construed as minimizing the impact Martin Luther King, Jr.'s leadership and vision had on civil rights during that era.

    I have great respect and admiration for Hillary Clinton and wanted to be clear in my post that she has been a leader in the struggle for civil rights, feminism and the call for equality and justice for all women.

    As I write in the very next paragraph:

    Hillary and Bill Clinton have been integrally involved with the struggle for civil rights for many years and have clearly proven themselves to be deeply committed to the cause – which makes their recent comments all the more astounding and thoughtless.

    I do not think this is call for a retraction but rather a clarification. Here is the YouTube video with Clinton's full answer: