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Commentary: Clinton camp wrong to play the gender card

  • Story Highlights
  • Martin: Her front-runner status, not her sex, makes her a target
  • Martin: Geraldine Ferraro should be ashamed for race remark
  • Martin: None of the men running has been shown to be sexist
  • Martin: You want the job, slug it out and don't try to play the victim
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By Roland S. Martin
CNN contributor
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Watch Roland Martin on "Sound Off" on Live at 11:10 a.m. ET.

(CNN) -- When we were kids, my brother and I used to always get our butts whipped by my dad for hitting my sister, LeVita.

Roland Martin says opponents' attacks on Sen. Hillary Clinton have nothing to do with her gender.

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 and watched us play in the front yard and his eyes lit up. He saw his baby girl hit me and Reggie, 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 Geraldine Ferraro blast 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 as egregious and offensive as 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 mad 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. The front-runner always has a bullseye on their back.

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 always said that what matters are the issues, and not their hair, nails, pantsuits versus dresses or if 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 "nave" 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 to not use soft money. Lazio came off as a brute who was so callous to attack a woman, and women who weren't enthralled with Clinton 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 in not making any attacks on her personally, but about substance. I talked to several prominent Democratic women, some who support Clinton, who made it clear that any attack on her could backfire and drive more women to her campaign.

Clinton, you want to be president. If you win, you will be the first woman, and that will be wonderful and historic. But tell your surrogates to cut the race and gender crap. None of the men running have shown they are sexist. And none are 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 a nationally award-winning journalist and CNN contributor. Martin is studying to receive his master's degree in Christian communications at Louisiana Baptist University, and he is the author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith." You can read more of his columns at

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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