Sunday, January 27, 2008


So last night I was flipping channels and came across Fox News/CNN/MSNBC coverage of the South Carolina Democratic primary. How exciting. Or not, since each station was already predicting a Barack Obama win with only 2% of precincts reporting. We might as well not have actually voting and just go off of exit polls.

Apparently Obama is just a regular black guy.

The big story was that Obama had courted the black vote (80%), and he had won every age demographic. Several months ago Hillary Clinton was leading Obama among African-Americans. But Obama won in South Carolina even among African-American women. Obama could just be the better candidate. But what we will hear is that African-American women identify more with their race than their gender. All kinds of pundits have opined on race and gender in this election. Bill Clinton has suggested that his "wife" has been getting short shrift because she's a woman and Obama is black. But for the life of me I can't figure out why this is such a big deal.

If in fact people like to vote for politicians who look like them or are like them racially at least, then why is Obama such a big deal? He is half white, and his father is Kenyan. He went to a fancy prep school in Hawaii. That's really nothing like the average African-American guy on the street. Clarence Thomas on the other hand is a down-home boy from Georgia, descendent of slaves, raised without a father. Yet Thomas is villified while Obama is loved. Yeah, Obama is more charismatic, but the betrayal that is projected on Thomas is completely unjustified.

Justice Clarence Thomas

I asked my Kenyan roommate if he would vote for Obama and his response was an emphatic "Oh no!" I inquired to why he wouldn't support his "countryman." "Because" was his response. He didn't care to elaborate but I think it's safe to assume that he knows what pollsters and Democrats don't want us to know: the race and gender of a candidate are the least important things (if only because those two factors are beyond a candidate's control whereas other qualifications aren't).

Why would I assume that a woman or a minority candidate can't represent me based solely on those two criteria? Men can represent women just as well as women can represent men, if they have similar political orientations. Jeannette Rankin was elected to Congress by only men. To think that only black people could adequately represent black people and therefore the lack of African-American representation in Congress is because of structural racism, is race baiting. Besides the underrepresentation is only in Congress. There are two African-Americans in the Cabinet: Secretary of State Rice (DomerGirl and fourth in line to be President) and HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson. There is one African-American on the Supreme Court. So in two branches of government there is proportional African-American representation. The Congressional Black Caucus just needs to do a better job of getting its members into the Senate and that branch will be proportionally represented too.


HUD Secretary Jackson

But even this notion of proportionality is misguided. There aren't always available candidates to make every race-conscious voter happy. If it were so that I could only be represented by white men, then what do I do in the situation that was presented to me in November 2006, when my state rep Shirley Horton, was challenged by Maxine Sherrard? Should I not vote and render my opinions useless in the face of the "If you don't vote you can't complain" argument?

Well I did vote. I chose the incumbent and winner Horton (Just to disclose this, Horton is white and Sherrard is black). It should be more important that a candidate share similar beliefs and values with his/her constituency than a race or gender (or even party). I am a non-partisan but I have no problem voting against Dianne Feinstein, not because she is a Jewish woman, but because I don't agree with her positions.

It's important to stop and think when we go to the booth. It would be wrong to vote for a candidate simply because of race, just as it would be wrong to not vote for a candidate simply because of race.


Darragh said...

Yeah, well if Jackie Chan was running for President I'd vote for him b/c he's Asian, and we Crasians must stick together.

Crasian = crazy asian

Anonymous said...

why does race and gender matter so much? If Obama's experience as a black man is so atypical of everyone else, why do they think the color of his skin means he is "one of them"? The same goes for Hilary - she's proven that she can compete in a "man's world" but why vote for her just to get a woman in the white house when you don't actually agree with her politics?

Wotcher said...

In response to the previous comment, i think that the race and gender issues are the latest sensational things, in a culture based on sensations. They're new, they're exciting, we've never had anything like them before! Mitt Romney and the religious issue falls into this - we've never had a Mormon in office before, so he's new and sensational. Fred Thompson was an actor - that was exciting. McCain could concievably win - exciting. Etc. Hilary is a woman, Obama is black, Edwards was Kerry's running mate whom Kerry didn't endorse - everyone's got a label like that.

Perhaps we should take the opportunity to give thanks for the fact that we can have an open election like this, where anyone in the broad spectrum of humanity has the chance of being the next world leader.

Darragh said...

I've noticed that as the candidates are slowly eliminated like a bad game of Clue, they are bein remarkably civil towards each other, at least on the republican side. in fact, except for Romney, who should be called for cobbing (excessive use of elbows), the republican race has been very civil.

on the democrat side, it's like hilary and obama each have a full deck of cards that will be gone by the end of the race.

Brandon said...

Don't be silly Darragh, you're as Irish as they come. I mean, your name is Darragh afterall.

John said...

Don't forget Mike Steele, J.C. Watts, and Colin Powell. I even take a real liking to Charlie Rangel and Al Sharpton, although I doubt we agree on much.