Wednesday, May 21, 2008

First off, let me tell you guys that there probably won't be much blogging for the next week or so. I'm scheduled to jet off to Costa Rica tomorrow with my brother for a week of tequila drinking and monkey smuggling. Since we'll be navigating the country without a working knowledge of Spanish and since we're planning on sleeping at the foot of an active volcano, I guess you guys better keep your fingers crossed for us. If we're not back in a week, send a search party (provisioned with Elvis costumes, UT football tickets, and tiny American flags).

And with the primary race winding down, Hillary Clinton has been chastising the press, maintaining that she has faced a tremendous amount of sexism during her campaign which has gone unreported and uncriticized. Clinton has gone on to say that while racism is no longer tolerated in this country, she has been unfairly targeted during her candidacy by misogynists and others who have made sexist comments that have gone uncriticized in the mainstream media.
Here's the thing. I absolutely do believe that Clinton has faced sexism and unfairness during her bid for the Democratic candidacy. I remember seeing the clips where people yelled sexist comments during some of her rallies, and apparently there have even been people at some rallies who went so far as to hold up signs saying things like, "Iron My Shirt". I've also listened to a few Rush Limbaugh shows where he has unapologetically said some insanely sexist things about Clinton, but, well, that's Rush Limbaugh (who's also been pretty comfortable implying that Obama is a Muslim with potential terrorist ties).
But in all fairness, racism hasn't entirely been absent during Obama's campaign, either. In locations with largely uneducated white populations (places with few college graduates), Obama has had a very difficult time making inroads, as he's struggled against very thinly disguised racism. In West Virginia, voters cited the fact that Obama was a Muslim when asked why they wouldn't vote for him (even after admitting that they knew he had sworn that he was not). Racial slurs have been painted on Obama campaign headquarters in places like Longview, Texas, and further vandalism has occurred in campaign offices in Indiana. Furthermore, conservative talk show hosts and pundits have tried to make use of Barack Obama's middle name, Hussein, to vaguely imply that the senator is, in fact, a Muslim, or has some sort of ties to the Muslim community (the fact that such an implication might be seen as overwhelmingly negative might, of course, be considered racist in itself, but the truth is that Obama is not a practicing Muslim and has considered himself Christian for many years). People in this country may not be as comfortable making racist statements in public as they once were, but in the privacy of the voting booth I think that racism is probably still a very real force. (all of this to say that I think Clinton's statements regarding the death of racism in this country might be a little bit premature)

Anyway, I don't want this to become some kind of argument about whether sexism or racism is worse (I think we can all agree that they're both pretty bad). My only point here is that presidential politics is obviously a full contact sport, and opponents are going to exploit any weakness (or perceived weakness) that they can find in order to gain an advantage (and if the opponent himself doesn't exploit these things, than people who simply don't want a minority candidate in office may still make an appeal to these baser instincts). Until a woman or a black man actually wins a presidential election, their minority status, on some level, is going to be seen as a possible weakness that others will try to take advantage of. As a society, we can try to minimize ridiculous, unfair criticisms, but we live in a land of (relatively) free speech, and to some extent sexism and racism are always going to be out there, and are just going to have to be overcome. Criticisms based on gender occur alongside a hundred other potential issues that the opposing side will try to use- some fair and some obviously unfair. Candidates get criticized because of the way they talk, because of their hairstyles, because of their religion (I'm looking at you, Mitt Romney), because of their place of origin, because of their backgrounds, because of their education, because of their wealth, because of their age, because of their health, and in at least one bizarre turn of events, because of the fact that they served on a swift boat during the war. And you know what? Unfair criticism is not going to end if and when a minority candidate takes office. There's still going to be criticism on the basis of minority status once a woman or black man takes office, so they might as well figure out how they're going to deal with these things while they're running for office. The president is going to have to make a decision about whether to get defensive and complain about the fact that they're being picked on unfairly (a tactic which probably isn't going to win them too many points), or they're going to just have to realize that they're always going to receive criticism, that some of it is always going to be unfair (and that this would be true regardless of their skin color or gender), and that the best way to counter such criticism is to lead by example.

I have literally been seeing press coverage for years now about how Hillary Clinton was the presumptive presidential candidate for the Democratic Party in '08, and in the early days, before Barack picked up steam, she seemed to have been all but annointed as our leader. Ever since she won her senate seat people have been talking about how Hillary was the presumptive democratic candidate (and this is going back for a number of years - I remember groaning about Newsweek magazine covers with Hillary on them shortly after the '04 presidential election- groaning because I felt that there was enough dislike of Clinton within the conservative base to mobilize them against her if she should run, although back in those days I thought she was really our only contender). Where was all of this sexism back then? It was certainly there, but obviously Clinton didn't think it was enough of an issue to allow it to dissuade her from persuing her political agenda.
I guess that if Hillary hadn't drawn such a strong opponent in Obama, that the sexism argument would have been heard only during the general election.
And last but not least, isn't it possible that Hillary picked up some percentage of the vote simply because she is a woman? There are certainly people out there who are voting for her primarily because they want to see a woman in the White House (people who know little about her as a person or about her proposed policies as a candidate, but who simply want to see a woman in the White House).
So is there sexism out there? Yes. Do I think it's the only reason Hillary isn't leading the primary race? I don't think that it is, and I think that it does Barack Obama a great disservice to claim that the only reason he's winning is because our country is sexist. I think Hillary is a strong leader and a fiercely capable woman who would make a fine president, but I think that right now she symbolizes a return to divisive Washington politics as usual at a time when the country is desperately craving something new. Obama may or may not deliver on that promise, but at least he offers an opportunity for something different. Ideally, actually, I'd like to see Hillary on the ticket with him (no, I'm not one of those Barack supporters who has turned rabidly anti-Hillary), but we'll see how this plays out.


Anonymous said...

You say, "Racial slurs have been painted on Obama campaign headquarters in places like Longview, Texas..." I'm just curious, what were the racial slurs that were used in Longview? From the reporting I've witnessed, the painted vandalism in Longview was the word "racist." Since when is it a racial slur to call something or someone racist? Did you yourself just posted a racial slur?

J.S. said...

Well, upon following up, apparently the word racist was spray painted upon the building and upon a couple of vans which were owned by the same man who had rented the building to Obama's campaign. This man, Eddie Towles, says he believed that the graffitti was directed toward him, and that it was written in anger because of the fact that he rented his property to the Obama campaign. The whole thing is convoluted and stupid (they even misspelled the word racist in some of the graffitti), but it undoubtedly invokes issues of race, anger, and ignorance towards people who were involved in the Obama campaign. (and that's kind of the issue that I was driving at, details aside...)

By the way, anonymous comments are still the way of the coward.