Clinton camp wrong to play the gender card

When we were kids, my brother and I always used to get our butts whipped by my dad for hitting my sister LeVita. As the only girl at the time, she would run to daddy and tell him we hit her. So, believing his baby girl, he took it out on us.

But one day, he was at the kitchen table watching us play in the front yard, and his eyes lit up; he saw his baby girl hit Reggie and me, and when we hit back, she ran screaming into the house to tell him the usual tale. This time, Daddy spanked her for instigating the fight and then for trying to get us in trouble. Daddy had to explain to LeVita that when you hit boys, sometimes they hit back.

That story came to mind as I read how Geraldine Ferraro blasted the Democratic presidential candidates for their tough questioning last week of Sen. Hillary Clinton during the latest presidential debate.

Clinton herself kicked off the "woe is me" routine when her campaign accused her rivals of "piling on" when they took exception to her multiple answers to the question of illegal immigrants getting driver's licenses in New York and the release of her papers to the president during the two terms of President Bill Clinton. Then, of course, she went to Wellesley College, her alma mater, and talked about the school preparing her for the "all-boys club of presidential politics."

She has asserted that the criticism wasn't about her being a woman, but being the front-runner for the nomination. But her gender dance wasn't lost on her supporters, who took the cue from their fearless leader and went into action on talk radio, on blogs and in political circles.

But no one has been more egregious and offensive than Ferraro, the Democrats' vice presidential candidate in 1984. In a front-page story in Monday's New York Times, Ferraro didn't just play the gender card, she also combined it with the race card. "John Edwards, specifically, as well as the press, would never attack Barack Obama for two hours the way they attacked her. It's OK in this country to be sexist. It's certainly not OK to be racist. I think if Barack Obama had been attacked for two hours &

well, I don't think Barack Obama would have been attacked for two hours."

She later said, "We can't let them do this in a presidential race. They say we're playing the gender card. We are not. We are not. We have got to stand up. It's discrimination against her as a candidate because she is a woman."

Excuse me? How in the world is Clinton being discriminated against? She is leading all polls. She has raised more money than all the other candidates.

She is leading likely GOP challengers in the polls, and Ferraro is angry because she's getting criticized? Give me a break!

Remember former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun? She ran for president in 2004, but no one went after her. Why? Because she's a woman? No. Because she was so low in the polls it served no purpose. Front-runners always have bull's-eyes on their backs.

It is insulting for Ferraro and other Clinton supporters to decry the fact that she is being pressed on her policy decisions. For years, women have said that what matters are the issues, not their hair, nails, pantsuits vs. dresses or whether they can bake cookies.

But now that she is getting some heat, Clinton is coming off as the woman who cries, "Don't hit me because I'm a girl."

And shame on Ferraro for injecting race into this. Do you recall Clinton calling Obama naive for saying he would meet with Iran, Venezuela and Cuba with no preconditions? Did he respond by saying, "Don't hit me because I'm black"?

All women should be disgusted with this blatant play on gender. Ferraro essentially said that all the men who are running against Clinton are sexist and they should be ashamed of themselves for questioning her. I suppose Ferraro wanted the race to be a coronation, and Edwards, Obama, Joe Biden, Christopher Dodd, Bill Richardson and Dennis Kucinich were supposed to step aside and sing, "Hail to the queen."

But don't be fooled; this is a crafty ploy by the Clinton campaign to further solidify their female base. Remember when she ran for the U.S. Senate in 2000 against then-Rep. Rick Lazio? He made the stupid move of confronting her in a debate, wagging his finger in her face and demanding that she sign a campaign pledge not to use soft money. Lazio came off as a brute who was callous to attack a woman, and women who weren't enthralled with the first lady all of a sudden rose to her defense. That was Clinton's checkmate against Lazio, and she went on to crush him.

Edwards and Obama aren't dumb enough to pull a Lazio, but they must tread carefully and make substantive attacks rather than personal attacks. I talked to several prominent Democratic women &

some of whom support Clinton &

who made it clear that any attack on her could backfire and drive more women to her campaign.

Sen. Clinton, you want to be president. If you win, you will be the first woman to be president, and that will be wonderful and historic. But tell your surrogates to cut the race and gender crap. None of the men running has shown he is sexist. And none is racist. You want the job; earn it. Go through the fire like the men. But don't try to play the victim; it's unbecoming of a commander in chief.

Roland S. Martin is an award-winning CNN contributor and the author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith." Please visit his Web site at . To find out more about Roland S. Martin and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at .

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