Candidates a wedge issue for mother and daughter
by Eric Fingerhut
Thursday, January 31, 2008
Judith Barnett and her daughter, Miriam Vogel, both spent the days before the New Hampshire primary as campaign volunteers, but stayed in separate towns and didn’t cross paths. That was probably for the best, since Barnett was working for Hillary Clinton and Vogel for Barack Obama, and their relationship had turned a little frosty.
Amid the then-widespread belief that Clinton’s presidential bid was is serious trouble, Vogel said her mother was “much less pleasant to speak with on the phone.”
“They were probably our shortest calls on record,” says Barnett, who lives in the District.
Barnett, 61, also wasn’t crazy about the photos that her daughter had sent her of 5-month-old granddaughter Zoe sporting an Obama hat.
“I thought it was a little early for indoctrination,” Barnett quips. “We ought to allow the child to make her own decisions.”
But Vogel, 33, who grew up in Bethesda and now lives in Brookline, Mass., says her mom did become a little friendlier as the results started to roll in, texting her daughter such jests as “When’s [Obama’s] concession speech?”
Actually, both Barnett and Vogel emphasize that their political differences haven’t affected their strong mother-daughter bond, and Barnett says she enjoys seeing her daughter come to her own decision.
“I’m not disappointed,” she says. “It’s the burden and blessing of raising an independent child.”
Their disagreement on candidates illustrates a divergence of opinion that is likely occurring throughout many Democratic families in recent months, as exit polls show that Obama gets his strongest support from younger voters while Clinton carries older Democrats.
Barnett says she doesn’t believe she’s given her daughter much of a hard time about her choice.
Vogel tells a different story. “There’s been no shortage of jabs and pointed comments directed my way,” she says.
“I think I’ve tried to engage in discussions of issues, but they go nowhere,” Barnett counters. She also recognizes that she won’t succeed in changing her daughter’s mind. “The last time I tried to convince her to do anything was when she was about 10,” she says.
So Barnett’s chosen shalom bayit, or “peace in the home,” saying that she’d rather spend time talking to her daughter about child rearing than engaging in an ultimately fruitless endeavor.
For instance, when Vogel visited a couple weekends ago, Shabbat dinner included a number of Clinton supporters as guests, but politics talk was kept at a minimum. (Zoe’s presence at dinner, Vogel says, was another factor in keeping any strong political emotions in check.)
Barnett’s support for Clinton dates back to Bill Clinton’s administration, when she served in the Commerce Department helping U.S. companies invest in the Middle East after the Oslo Accords were signed. These days, she runs the Barnett Group, a consultant to U.S. companies on trade issues.
Vogel also has a history with the Clintons, as a staffer on the Clinton-Gore 1996 campaign and then working in the White House presidential personnel and public liaison offices during Clinton’s second term.
But a September 2005 house party featuring Obama gave Vogel, now an attorney for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, a different perspective.
“I don’t know when [he’s going to run], but I can’t wait to get this guy elected ‹ it doesn’t matter against who,’ ” she remembers thinking.
Vogel says her mom has teased her about not showing loyalty to the Clintons. But, to her, the presidential election “isn’t about what someone has done for me, it’s about what’s best for the country and my daughter’s future.”
She emphasizes that she isn’t anti-Clinton. Instead, she stresses that “I’m really proud of the candidate I’m supporting” and “every week I find new reasons to support him,” Vogel says.
Both women argue that their candidates will be strong proponents of the Jewish state. Barnett, a longtime member of Congregation Adas Israel in the District, cites the Clintons’ track record as “strong supporters of Israel” and believes Hillary Clinton will “present a very balanced Middle East policy.”
Vogel, meanwhile, says she hoped the Jewish community would not be swayed by an e-mail campaign falsely alleging that Obama is a Muslim.
“He really is a friend of Israel,” Vogel says, pointing to the letter Obama sent last week urging the United Nations act to condemn Kassam rocket attacks on Sderot as one example.
Both mother and daughter say they’ll come together to support the Democratic nominee whoever it is, although Barnett quips that she probably won’t be getting her daughter any inaugural tickets if Clinton prevails.
As for whether their relationship could once against hit a rough patch if Obama wins the nomination, Vogel responds, “I hope it’s a challenge we have to overcome.”