Monday, January 14, 2008

Gender and Race

There is something truly wondrous about this year’s presidential race.  And yes, it has a fairy tale character, though perhaps not the kind that garnered so much attention and heat last week.  Who would have thought as we marched or lobbied for the rights of two disenfranchised groups of Americans decades ago that a woman and an African American would be duking it out for the Democratic nomination?  One of them will very likely take up residence on Pennsylvania Avenue in a year’s time.  Martin King’s vision notwithstanding, not in our wildest dreams.  That both the gender and race cards might show their ugly heads in such a contest was inevitable, albeit disturbing.  I would argue that it’s better to have them on the table; now rather than later.  There is nothing worse or more damaging than an undercurrent of whispers.  Yes America, Hillary is a woman and Barack is Black.  Now you know the truth.

I believe this will blow over.  Ultimately Senator Clinton won’t win because men have piled on her and Senator Obama won’t prevail because of some racial snub.  Backlash sympathy votes have a short shelf life.  At the same time, the reaction to the perceived offences is revealing.  It tells us something that we already know.  Many of us are terribly conflicted about the choice we have to make.  It’s no big surprise that the same people who have long hoped for the day when we could send a woman to the White House, hope equally that we will send an African American.  Having that opportunity at the same time, having to make that choice, is both exhilarating and gut-wrenching.  To be sure, when it comes to the candidates themselves, we have our preferences.  Nevertheless, we feel almost guilty in not supporting the other.  In watching the campaign’s designated spokespeople discuss the race issue today, I was struck by that obvious and undoubtedly shared inner conflict. 

As you know, I’m, solidly for Obama, but it nonetheless pains me deeply to withhold my support from what might be the first female president.  I have no doubt about my choice, but the idea of holding yet another woman back eats at my stomach.  I guess that’s why we are hearing some of the pundits talking about “a ticket”.  Oh, do they want to control the race.  Of course, it would solve a lot of problems, fulfill both dreams.  And it’s true that anything can happen in politics – remember when Majority Leader Johnson signed on with Jack Kennedy?  But I think it’s really unlikely that Hillary will go for second place.  She and Bill are not seeking to restore the Vice Presidency.  Just kidding, I think dream tickets are often in our minds but very hard to fashion.

There remain those who believe the country is not ready for either a woman or a person of color.  It would be naïve to think that not to be the case for some among us.  Nor, based on the last two elections, is there any reason to believe that voters are necessarily driven by their best instincts.  That said, I do believe that we are collectively suffering divisiveness fatigue.  It’s precisely why the Obama candidacy and message of hope and change is so compelling.  In that context, I believe the good impulses might just win out this time.  In these dark days that would be a spot of very bright light.  As we move past gender and race in the days ahead, let’s focus on getting that done.  Let the best person prevail.  There is a chance to do something important this time around and, in that alone, we even have choice on our side.

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