It struck me this week that we had the funerals of two extraordinary women, Coretta Scott King and Betty Friedan. Each had respectful obituaries in all the papers and on TV. The similarities end there. King’s funeral was a major media and political event. Friedan’s wasn’t. Ten thousand people attended King’s funeral, 300 attended Friedan’s. King’s body lay in state and 100,000 mourners filed by and thousands more lined the streets to the church as her casket passed by. There was no lying in state for Friedan, and no mourners lining the streets.
Different styles of mourning perhaps? Different religions? Different cultures? Perhaps.
What struck me most was the political turnout. Four Presidents, including our incumbent, President Bush, and his predecessors, Clinton, Bush 1 and Carter, all attended, as did other dignitaries from Federal, state and local government. If any were at Friedan’s funeral, their presence went unremarked on by the press.
The intersections of politics and power and media were all too clearly on display here by where our public officials chose to be seen, and filmed for their public to see. We may never know which President decided to attend first. My guess it was Clinton, who many have called our first Black President and who, with his office in Harlem, has a special affinity for the African-American public. There was also, and the Times confirmed it with their front page photograph this morning, a clear political motive to get Hillary front and center before an audience she will need to get in the White House. When faced with this, President Bush changed his plans to give a speech in Maine, postponing it until the day after the funeral, and decided to attend, bringing his father along for good measure. Jimmy Carter, a fellow Georgian and a decent human being, was of course there too.
The only politician reported at Friedan’s funeral was former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman.
Three dozens speakers gave eulogies for King during the six hour service. Only a few, including Friedan’s children, did at her hour long service.
The TV was at King’s, not at Friedan’s.
I don’t want to get into an argument about which of Friedan or King contributed more to American life. They both did in their own way. Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique, written in 1963, changed American culture. As the first of the Second Wave of feminists, she got America thinking about the problem that had no name. Everything else that followed was built on her provocative book. King carried on her husband’s fight for justice, not just racial justice, but justice. She was anti-war, like he was, when it was not popular.
So, I don’t think the turnout of politicians was a matter of saying one woman more than the other did more for America.
I think it was a matter of who could do more for the politicians in the future. The African-American vote is in play. Bill and Hillary Clinton are counting on it. George Bush and the Republican Party want a slice of it. African-Americans went for Kerry 88-11. This could be read to mean that the African-American vote is solid for the Democrats, and the Republicans shouldn’t even try. Karl Rove clearly doesn’t think so. The Black vote is in play and the Republicans want it. This gives the African-American people leverage and power to demand attention to their issues.
What does that say about the women’s movement, and the women’s vote? Let’s distinguish between the women’s vote and the feminist vote. Hillary and the Democrats clearly think they have the feminist vote locked up, and the Republican Party doesn’t see much of a chance, given where it stands on issues key to feminists, such as abortion rights. The feminist vote, as opposed to the women’s vote, is solid for the Democrats and not worth pursuing by the Republicans.
But what of the women’s vote? Women went for Kerry by 51-48. Are they in play? You bet. The gender gap has fluctuated by up to 15 percentage points in the past Presidential elections. Many women, who may benefit from feminism, don’t vote as if it mattered. What is not in play is the core feminist voter, who attended the Friedan funeral. Hence, Hillary could afford not to be there, and Bush couldn’t be bothered. This makes the feminist block relatively powerless, compared to the African-American. The Republicans won’t woo the feminists, and the Democrats can afford to ignore them. Not a prescription for getting the feminist agenda front and center. The Democrats know feminists have no where else to go. Maybe its time feminists figured out that place and went.