Monday, January 28, 2008

The rather unsettling bottom line

If Barack Obama were 100% white would we be interested in him, and would he have gotten as far as he has politically?
If Hillary Clinton were a male would we be interested in her, and would she have gotten as far as she has politically?
Unfortunately, the answer to both questions is "no". Our hankering after these two is based in disturbingly large measure on the fact that one identifies as black and the other as female. At a time when we should be examining their intelligence, ability and accomplishments, we are fascinated with and fawning over accidental qualities rather than substance. That is the elephant in the ring with them.
Not to worry. Either will be a tremendous improvement.


bj said...

I can't quite figure out why exactly I find this post unsettling.... it is as if you think you can somehow erase one's gender or race, in a culture that makes both of these traits important, and still have the same person, just of a different race or gender. What is interesting about both, and probably more Mr Obama, is how their experience has influenced their character. He has taken his experience as an outsider and transformed it into someone who can relate to other "outsiders" ---- think about Harvey Milk - he wasn't a great man just because he stood up for others of his same "group" but he reached across to women, union members, and other minorities and brought them together, taking his own "limited experience" as a gay man and transforming it into relating to others, seeing what they have in common, and created true excitement in San Francisco back in the 70's, taking his own expereince and relating it to others in a positive, forceful manner.... anyway, I guess I just don't get the simplifying of Obama, or Clinton, merely as an ordinary member of their race or gender, and then their being of that "different" group, it propelled them to where they are today.

farmboyz said...

Dear BJ,
It's not as if I haven't wrestled with exactly the point you make: that we cannot subtract race and gender from the totality of the person in question. But we can net out and examine accomplishments, intelligence and ability beyond the romanticized value of electing someone of a race/gender that has been under-represented in the presidency. It's too important a job. This is not like when Halle Berry won that Best Actress award.

Tater said...

What interests me about Obama is not the color of his skin, but his ability to stir and excite the populace with his voice. Erase race, and I see a JFK, but one with more experience, better education, and someone that came from a less privileged background. Hillary has intelligence, experience, an insatiable drive for power, and a former president as a team member. Both are indeed better than what we currently have, and race and gender are an added bonus. Unqualified white men have had a stranglehold on the office for far too long, and I am interested to see how someone of a different race or gender will use that experience to smash the glass ceiling of power, and improve life for those of us that do not quite fit into the white, straight, male, life of privilege and ease. BJ's points are both valid, and intriguing, I can't wait to see what happens next should Hillary or Obama get elected.

David said...

Maybe I'm too young (hah) but since I have no memories of JFK other than anecdotal ones I find no resonance with Mr. Obama. When I hear him speak I hear a politician, just as I hear one when I hear Edwards or Clinton or Kennedy (Ted) speak.

And in response to the original post, my belief is that if Hillary Clinton were a white male, she would have gone as far if not farther politically. Her bravado and aggression would be rewarded instead of constantly questioned.

Mr. Obama would simply be another qualified politician, beloved by his constituency but unable to distinguish himself from the glut of other white male pols. In other words, John Edwards.

tater said...

There are many similarities between Obama and JFK, including age, oratory style, outsider status (catholic, african american), the ability to engage a younger generation of voters, and both were very much politicians at heart, just like their competition. I know that Hillary is your choice David, and she will also be mine if she wins the primaries.

Y | O | Y said...

I think I'd still be interested in Obama if he were white. In a recent post, I wrote how his 2004 convention speech excited me. It was his words not his appearance. His words reminded me of Bill Clinton's in his convention speech in 1992. I was interested in him despite the fact that he is white. I like what they both said because they were so similar and seemlingly in sync with how I think.

Regarding Hillary, I think a more provoking question would be, "Would we still be as interested in her if she weren't married to Bill?"

The Neighbors Will Hear said...

I believe the more unsettling bottom line should be whether if any previous candidate for president were not 100% white and male, would we be interested in him/her, and would he/she have gotten as far as he/she has politically.

In the past, we've always tried to choose the most qualified candidate among white males. I'm not so troubled with the desire to choose the most qualified candidate among everyone else.