Showing posts with label sexism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sexism. Show all posts

8/29/2008

McCain-Palin Analysis

John McCain surprised the political world by choosing Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate. Palin had long been considered a dark horse candidate who was adored in conservative circles, but was often considered a far less likely selection than more established candidates with stronger national profiles like Mitt Romney, Tom Ridge, and Tim Pawlenty.

John McCain must be given credit for snatching the media limelight away from Barack Obama after his powerful speech last night. And by choosing someone who wasn't on most people's radars, this will ensure that the gushing over Obama's speech will be tempered considerably by pundits assessing who Palin is and what she brings to the ticket. This pick clearly shows that McCain is willing to shake up his campaign and try to blunt Obama's message of change.

As a governor, Palin is the only non-senator who will be on the two presidential tickets this fall. She will also be the only person on the tickets who has executive experience, so she can easily portray herself as both an outsider and a reformer. Of course, Barack Obama had been running on the same message, so the challenge for Obama would be to ensure that Palin does not co-opt his message.

Palin is unequivocally pro-life and a strong advocate of other issues important to social conservatives. This should please the Republican base who may have still had reservations about John McCain after the Rick Warren Forum earlier this month. McCain certainly pleased social conservatives at that forum, but tapping Palin to join him shows that he is indeed serious about showing social conservatives that he will be loyal to them. Any doubts they had about him earlier should immediately be erased by this pick. Also, because of the murmurs about McCain choosing Tom Ridge or Joe Lieberman, both of whom are pro-choice, that augments the feeling of relief pro-life voters have about Palin and enhances her appeal.

As a lifelong member of the National Rifle Association who also enjoys fishing, conservative-leaning male gun owners and sportsmen should not feel threatened by Palin. The same holds true for fiscal conservatives, as this statement from the Club for Growth indicates.

Democrats are going to have a difficult time attacking her because she is far removed from Washington. There aren't pages and pages of votes she has to account for, like McCain, Biden, and Obama do. And it inoculates her from Obama's complaints about sending the same politicians back to Washington year after year. Palin has earned a reputation as a reformer who has taken on corruption in Alaska and stood up to politicians, no matter how powerful, in the name of ethics reform. And as an obscure governor, Democrats will be hard pressed to find video of her criticizing McCain. Had McCain chosen Romney, they would have had reels and reels of tape to gleefully sort through. Palin forces the Democrats to reconnoiter.

However, McCain's selection of Palin presents him with several disadvantages. At 44, Palin is younger than Barack Obama (who is 47) and a generation younger than John McCain, whose 72nd birthday is today. In addition to reinforcing John McCain's age, it also prevents Republicans from attacking Obama's youth.

Second, she hails from Alaska. Just like Barack Obama did not need Joe Biden to deliver Delaware, John McCain does not need Sarah Palin to deliver Alaska. (If Alaska was truly in danger of going blue, that would probably signify a problem far greater for the McCain campaign that not even Palin could stop.) A more important consideration that goes beyond this fairly superficial point is the fact that it's difficult to see which states she could be particularly beneficial in. For example, Mitt Romney would have been able to help in Michigan, Nevada, and Colorado. Mike Huckabee would have had strong appeal throughout the South. Alaska, on the other hand, is a small state that may be difficult for voters in the 48 contiguous states to wrap their brains around. Some Republicans tried to paint Hawaii in the same light to show that Obama was "exotic" because of it. That line of attack will not work anymore.

Perhaps Palin's true appeal lies not with geography, but rather with a certain demographic. Female voters may immediately be intrigued by Palin, and the lingering number of diehard Clinton fans may give her a second look. Her staunch pro-life positions, however, may turn many of these women off. But at the same time, as a female, perhaps she can better communicate with them than a male could. A second risk is that this selection could be seen as overt pandering by McCain. After all, he has been running ads all this week suggesting that Barack Obama snubbed Hillary Clinton.

Another common criticism of Obama has been his lack of experience. Obama has served for 8 years in the Illinois State Legislature and 3 years as a senator. Sarah Palin has served as Alaska's governor for less than two years. Prior to that, her political experience comes at the municipal level, where she served as a city councilwoman and mayor of Wasilla, a city that has fewer than 7000 people.

The obvious line of attack from Democrats will be that this undercuts John McCain's message of the importance of experience. Any attack McCain makes on Obama's lack of experience will be countered by reminding voters of Palin's record. Of course, the difference between Obama and Palin is that Palin is running at the bottom of her ticket while Obama is running at the top of his. But the Democrats would likely retort that the vice president should be someone who is "ready from Day One," to use Hillary Clinton's words. Either way, the "experience" weapon has likely been neutralized.

The vice presidential debate looms as the biggest risk associated with Palin. She will have to debate Joe Biden, a strong speaker with vast foreign policy experience. Palin has none. If the debate focuses on domestic issues, Palin may have a chance. But if the debate has a strong military and/or foreign policy component, Biden vs. Palin '08 will look very much like Cheney vs. Edwards '04 or Bentsen vs. Quayle '88. Biden, of course, would have to be careful not to overstep his bounds and risk offending women the way Rick Lazio did against Hillary Clinton in her 2000 senate race.

Tying in with this, Republicans should be worried about ceding the national security issue to Democrats because Barack Obama largely acquitted himself with his acceptance speech last night and Joe Biden has obvious foreign policy and military knowledge. Can Sarah Palin really convince voters that she would be tough on national defense and fighting terrorism? Her political opponents will likely run ads with her picture displayed asking "Can you trust Sarah Palin to stand up to Iran and North Korea?"

Another possible Achilles's heel for Palin concerns something that may very well damage her primary strength: ethics. Palin has been the subject of an ongoing investigation examining whether she abused her power by trying to get a state trooper (her former brother-in-law) fired. This feeds into the Democrats' "culture of corruption" argument and shines an angry spotlight on Alaska, where Representative Don Young and Senator Ted Stevens are both battling ethics investigations of their own. If Palin becomes tainted as well, her political capital will be significantly weakened.

All in all, Palin represents a bold choice for John McCain and should revitalize his campaign and his supporters. While she was largely unknown to most of the electorate, she was a hot topic in conservative circles and the right-leaning blogosphere. However, she cancels out several of Obama's weaknesses and may disappoint ideological Republicans who did not find Obama's experience sufficient and may not find Palin's experience sufficient. (These conservatives felt the same way about Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.) However, she is an ideological ally of the Republican base who may be difficult to attack. And because she is a largely unknown politician, she should attract a lot of attention from the media and voters who want to learn more about her. So perhaps this gamble by McCain is paying off already.

6/08/2008

What We Learned This Primary Season

The primaries are over, the votes have been counted, and the nominees have all but officially been crowned. This year's general election will be between Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama. Both are senators, but have vastly different personal histories. These histories and their unique personal dynamics will be scrutinized heavily from here on out. So before diving into assessing the general election campaign over the next few weeks, it is prudent to take stock of what has happened so far and what we have learned. Lessons from January may very well help better predict what happens in October.

1. This is a change election. Experience does not matter. In the Democratic primaries, the most experienced candidates were Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, and Bill Richardson. Biden and Dodd dropped out after being rewarded with fifth and seventh place in the Iowa caucuses. Bill Richardson tried to trumpet his experience in the four-person debate before the New Hampshire primary only to finish fourth and drop out shortly thereafter. John Edwards tried to position himself as an experienced statesman by criticizing Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for their negative attacks. He was subsequently drubbed in Nevada and embarrassed in South Carolina. Inexplicably, Hillary Clinton decided to adopt the "experience" mantle and tried to frame Obama as "too risky" and "too inexperienced." And she lost too. Obama might be "inexperienced," but he won the nomination and raised the most money. The "experienced" candidates didn't. John McCain is the latest politician who is trying to take advantage of the "experience" argument against Barack Obama, but he should do so at his own peril. After all, voters may look at the current state of the nation's economy, Iraq, and gas prices and conclude that "experience" is overrated.

2. If you work the media hard enough, they will believe your spin. Hillary Clinton has made it a point to remind voters, pundits, and journalists that "she won more primary votes" than Barack Obama. Average voters don't really know much about primaries, caucuses, and delegates, so Clinton's statement somehow morphed to "she won the popular vote" and makes Obama look like George Bush in 2000 while Clinton is Al Gore. By the letter of the law, Clinton's "popular vote victory" is true. More people actually did vote for her than Obama. The spirit of the law, however, suggests otherwise. It is important to note that Clinton is able to claim this only by including her votes in Michigan, not giving Obama any votes in Michigan whatsoever, and not including votes in some caucus states that Obama actually won. If you say something enough times, people will eventually begin to think it's true. A second example of this concerns the whisper campaign about Obama's religion.

3. A candidate who is at least moderately acceptable on all levels has a better chance of political survival than a candidate who has several big strengths and at least one big weakness. For months, the Republican race was the more compelling one because there was no clear frontrunner:

Mitt Romney was the competent executive and looked presidential. But he was seen as an emotionless flip flopper and had to deal with unfair suspicions about his religion. He also had to deal with concerns about his true commitment to conservatism because of his moderate record.

Rudy Giuliani had the ability to appeal to moderates and had proven his leadership credentials in the minds of voters because of his performance on September 11. But the Republican base consists of conservatives, not moderates. And this base viewed him as out of touch on the social issues that were important to them.

Mike Huckabee seemed more authentic than the other candidates and was clearly the favorite of the Christian right. His populist message also connected with rural voters. However, his foreign policy and anti-terrorism credentials were weak and he had trouble appealing to voters outside of his base.

Fred Thompson had the name recognition, buzz, twang, and proven conservative record. But he was a terrible debater and did not seem to want to campaign.

John McCain was a credible conservative on spending, terrorism, and social issues. He was criticized for his impurity on some of these issues (e.g., the Bush tax cuts, immigration), but by and large, he was at least moderately acceptable to the most people. As a result, he won the nomination by staving off elimination the longest. McCain's victory showed that a candidate who rates as a 7, 7, and 7 on three issues is politically stronger than someone who rates as a 9, 9, and 3 on the same three issues.

4. All states matter. Hillary Clinton lost the nomination in February. She matched Obama step for step before Super Tuesday, on Super Tuesday, and from March and beyond. But from Super Tuesday to the end of the month, Obama racked up 11 consecutive victories and put Clinton in a hole that was too large for her dig herself out of. Not having a timely campaign apparatus set up in states like Nebraska, Wisconsin, Maryland, and Idaho cost her far more than her victories in Ohio and Pennsylvania could compensate for.

5. Due to campaign finance laws, breadth of support is more important than depth of support. Clinton was able to raise a lot of money out of the gates by racking up $2300 contributions from her most loyal supporters. Unfortunately for Clinton, once a supporter put up $2300, he was not allowed to contribute any further. So she had a lot of money, but from far fewer people. Obama, on the other hand, was pulling in $20, $50, and $100 donations from far more people. So he was able to overcome Clinton financially and eventually dwarf her because one $1000 donation from one person is worth far less than ten $100 donations from ten people. Appealing to regular people who think a thousand dollars is the same as a million dollars is how Obama was able to crush Clinton. Now he has an extensive donor base that he can take advantage of in the general election. John McCain would be wise to copy this approach to fundraising.

6. Iowa and New Hampshire must loosen their stranglehold on the nomination process. Michigan and Florida were penalized for what the other 46 states were privately thinking but couldn't say publicly. I've criticized these states' "me first" mentality many times before. The primary season may be over, but these criticisms are not going away. A more equitable primary system needs to be developed sooner rather than later.

7. Republicans might wish to consider proportional delegate allocation. Mitt Romney and John McCain could have had an epic fight like Obama and Clinton had the "winner take all" system not existed. Romney won several "silver medals" in the early contests and was clearly McCain's strongest rival. Florida was essentially a tie between the two candidates, but it was absolutely devastating for Romney's campaign. Conservatives began rallying behind Romney in their attempt to stop McCain, but it was too late. A proportional allocation of delegates would have given him a fighting chance at a comeback.

8. Democrats might wish to consider eliminating caucuses. Even though they came across as whining and sour grapes, Clinton's criticisms of the caucus system have merit. In a caucus, voting is done publicly and candidates who don't meet the minimum threshold of support can negotiate with other candidates' supporters. Caucuses are held at set times and at set locations that may prevent certain types of voters from participating. For example, voters may have to work, find babysitters, or take care of their parents at the same time the caucus is being held. What kind of system is this?

9. Identity politics may make various demographics feel good, but they are ultimately problematic. Democrats were priding themselves on the prospect of "the first Black president" or "the first female president." And now the party is divided. Superdelegates who really want to support Clinton fear the reaction among Blacks if they take the nomination away from Obama. And now that Obama won, he has to win over the legions of female Clinton supporters who are threatening to support McCain out of protest. The problem with identity politics is that it narrows one's political identity. The more Obama is identified as "the first Black president," the more it trivializes his actual legislative record and political platform.

The Republican Party would presumably care less about identity politics, but until a credible woman or person of color rises high enough in the party and decides to run for president, it is unknown how much resistance such a candidate would face from other Republican voters.

Recommended reading

  • The Republican Rorschach Test
  • The McCain McCalculus
  • Rethinking 2012
  • The Problem with Identity Politics
  • The Problem with the Clinton Brand
  • A Warning to Republicans
  • About Barack Hussein Obama
  • Calling the Democrats' Bluff

  • 6/04/2008

    The Obama Veepstakes: Defusing the Hillarybomb

    By now, everyone knows that Barack Obama will be the Democratic Party's presidential nominee. His victory in the Montana primary pushed him over the top, so he now has a majority of delegates.

    Obama gave a powerful speech about his victory last night addressing what lies ahead and even lauded Hillary Clinton's candidacy and her impact on the race. However, Clinton essentially stepped on his victory speech and stole a bit of the limelight by adding her name to Obama's shortlist and defiantly congratulating him on the race he has run, but not on the race he has won or the race that has just ended. Such a carefully crafted sentence is politically loaded and will ensure that until Obama chooses his vice president, this story will linger in the media. Notice how there are two competing storylines coming out of last night: "Who will Obama tap for vice president?" and "What does Clinton want?" Needless to say, Obama's camp is not amused.

    Could Clinton's supporters be overstating their importance? Are traditional Democrats really going to vote for McCain even though they have such disagreements with McCain over the war in Iraq, the economy, abortion rights, and the environment? Are these Democrats really going to place their contempt for Obama over their economic well-being just to spite him?

    Here are Obama's options:

    1. Wait. Waiting will give Clinton's supporters a bit of time to get over their defeat. Over time, their emotions will cool down a bit and they will rally behind Obama because he will be their party's representative in November. Primary fights are brutal, but time should heal those wounds.

    Also, waiting gives Clinton more time and more opportunities to disqualify herself from veep consideration. Obama probably does not want to have to deal with the Clintons (yes, the plural form) anymore, and almost certainly doesn't want to put her on his ticket because she contradicts so much of his message. (Read "Don't Expect an Obama-Clinton Ticket" for more information.) But if he's going to pass over her, he needs to find a reason that will come across as acceptable to the majority of her supporters. They want him to show her some respect. But any new Clinton gaffes, scandals, or attempts to minimize his victory or cast doubt on his electibility should be met with an all expenses paid trip off of his shortlist.

    There is also a strategic advantage to waiting. McCain has not chosen his running mate yet, so Obama could afford to wait a bit. If McCain chooses his running mate first, then Obama could react to that selection with a more careful selection of his own. Choosing Clinton first would cede this opportunity to McCain. And if Obama chooses a running mate first, that would give the Republicans more time to conduct opposition research and attempt to define that candidate before he can do it on his own. Waiting would force a staredown with McCain.

    2. Choose a woman not named Hillary. This is a double-edged sword. Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius seems to be the most attractive female pick right now. As I argued in my first post about Obama's veepstakes, her geography alone will prevent her from being pegged as a liberal because "Kansas liberal" just doesn't resonate. As a woman, she could help Obama tap into the same base that turned out for Clinton. And because she comes from an agricultural state, she could help Obama make inroads with the other group of voters he has struggled with as of late--rural voters. This could be a boon to him in southern Ohio, central Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.

    Obviously, the problem with this option is that a lot of women may say that if Obama is going to choose a woman for his vice president, she should be Hillary Clinton. So choosing a female not named Hillary could be seen as the ultimate insult to Hillary Clinton and her supporters. Again, Clinton said she wants her voters "to be respected." This could place both Obama and Sebelius in a tough situation.

    Another potential female pick would be Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri. She has been a vocal supporter of the presumptive nominee and could help deliver a state that Republicans cannot afford to lose. However, this selection seems a bit less likely because Missouri has a Republican governor and not just any Democrat could win a Senate seat in this fairly conservative state. This is also the argument against selecting Senator Jim Webb of Virginia.

    3. Choose a Clinton surrogate. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and Indiana Senator Evan Bayh were loyal Clinton supporters. Tapping one of them could be seen as an overture of respect because it would show that Obama is trying to bring the two camps together. Both of these picks should have Clinton's seal of approval. Rendell is a popular governor that would take Pennsylvania out of play and Bayh is the most popular politician in Indiana, a state that Obama could challenge with him on the ticket. Both politicians can appeal to rural working-class voters in Ohio and Michigan as well.

    The disadvantage here is the same disadvantage Obama would face by choosing a female other than Clinton. Why take a resident of Hillaryland when you can take Hillary herself? Also, would choosing a male make it more difficult for the Obama ticket to reclaim Clinton's female voters?

    4. Choose a Republican. This would be a bold selection that John McCain would have a difficult time parrying. Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel would immediately bring military and foreign policy heft to Obama's ticket. And it would be proof positive that Obama is serious about "change" because Democrats don't select Republicans to be on their presidential tickets. Another advantage here is that the news about Obama reaching across the aisle to select a Republican would trump the news about Obama snubbing Clinton.

    An unintended third advantage here would be that it would force John McCain to prove his bipartisan credentials as well. The best way he could do that would be to select Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman as his running mate. If McCain chose a Republican (Romney, Crist, Pawlenty, etc.), Obama could point to Hagel and say that he really does want to bring the nation together while McCain represented the old way of doing things. This would make it harder for McCain and his Republican running mate to start attacking "Democrats" and "liberals" because it plays into Obama's message of politics not being about "us vs. them." Also, McCain would have a harder time picking off Clinton's rural White voters if Hagel were on the ticket because 1) Hagel's a Republican, 2) Hagel's not a liberal, and 3) Hagel is pro-life, a popular position among rural voters.

    5. Reject Clinton publicly, politely, and firmly. This is a risky move that would show voters that Obama is in control of the party now. After all, the idea of a failed candidate forcing his hand does not make Obama look presidential. Obama already has enough problems with his thin resume and the perception that he is weak, especially on terrorism. The Republicans would have a field day with this. "If he can't stand up to the Clintons, how could he stand up to Ahmadinejad?"

    If Obama follows this path, he would have the liberty to conduct his veep search any way he wishes and without the "what does Clinton want?" storylines bogging him down. Clinton would then have to decide what she wants her legacy to be. She will have no choice but to support Obama regardless of her relationship to him because she does not want to be known as helping contribute to his defeat at the polls in November. If she wants to run for president again in 2012 (or 2016), she can't give anybody the idea that she did not work her heart out for her party's nominee in 2008. This option would remove Clinton's leverage, which would obviously enrage her supporters, many of whom still want her to take her fight for the nomination to the party convention in Denver.

    Obama has several options available to him at present. He has the stage to himself now, but only if he takes it. Yes, Clinton is still a political force to be reckoned with, but regardless of "what Clinton wants," she must appreciate the reality of her current political situation.

    Hillary Clinton may command the loyalty of millions of voters who may or may not be receptive to Obama, but she is in no position whatsoever to make any demands of Obama or to force his hand. He won the race, so he calls the shots. It is clearly his Democratic Party now, not hers. Hubris is what caused Clinton to lose the nomination in the first place. And if she overplays her hand in defiance, hubris may ultimately be what causes her to lose a spot on the November ticket as well.

    2/26/2008

    Republicans and Race

    According to the Politico, Republicans have quietly been polling voters about their attitudes regarding attacking female and ethnic minority candidates. This research is being conducted in preparation for waging a general election campaign against an opponent who, for the first time, will not be a White male.

    Given today's era of hypersensitivity, identity politics, political correctness, and coded language, it would seem wise that politicians are wise to engage in this kind of research. And it would seem especially wise for the Republican Party to express an interest in this kind of research seeing that they are generally seen as less sensitive to the needs of women and people of color. However, the fact that such research is even necessary illustrates the problem both political parties have with race and gender.

    Why is the GOP is conducting this research? Fairly or unfairly, the Republican Party has produced lots of evidence to suggest that it is a party for White Christian males who are comparatively better off financially than other Americans. Consider the paucity of non-White Republican politicians and the isolated dark faces you see in a sea of lighter ones at Republican campaign events. Regarding the GOPs appeal among Blacks, George Bush received less than 15% of the Black vote in his 2000 and 2004 campaigns, which mirrors Republicans' dismal performance among Blacks in general.

    Why the GOP is conducting this research is easy enough to understand. However, why the GOP feels it even needs to conduct this research is quite revealing. Do Republicans believe that criticizing Obama's environmental policies, for example, will lead to accusations of racism? Let's hope not. (If it does, then it's not Republicans who have the problem.) Criticizing Obama on something a bit more loaded, such as welfare reform, however, would likely cause them to act a bit more cautiously. However, if they are worried about accusations of racial insensitivity, perhaps they should have a little more faith in others. And if voters misconstrue something benign or innocuous as a racially insensitive remark, then those hypersensitive voters have some serious soul-searching to do. And in the event that this happens, Republicans could at least say they tried. Republicans in particular have a lot of work to do in regards to making inroads into various minority communities, but they can't give up if their overtures are rebuffed.

    Politicians should understand that it is perfectly okay to criticize or attack a political rival, so long as it is done on the merits. It doesn't matter if the rival is black, brown, purple, female, left-handed, vegetarian, or short. However, when you invoke race for the sake of invoking race or to appeal to the worst in voters, that's when you will run into trouble. It doesn't require thousands of dollars in commissioned studies and focus group testing to know this. Voters understand that race exists, but politicians should also understand that the lion's share of voters simply don't care about race and strongly object to having it thrown back in their faces.

    Hillary Clinton's South Carolina campaign is a textbook example of how not to use race. Ideally, race shouldn't be "used" for anything, but if it must be addressed, then it is far better to reference it to show empathy or cognizance of a group's needs than to employ it as a wedge issue. Should Clinton's presidential campaign end in failure, trying to link Barack Obama with Jesse Jackson and make hay out of his past drug use would be the moment that sent her presidential campaign from its zenith after its come-from-behind New Hampshire victory to a lonely trip back to the Senate. In addition, that race-baiting strategy also probably permanently tarnished the Clinton brand among Black and White Democrats alike.

    The Clintons' race-baiting in South Carolina is not the first time prominent Democrats have tried to use this as a wedge issue to drive voters into their corner, as anyone who has followed alleged Black spokesmen Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton knows. However, knowing that Democratic politicians have not exactly been innocent regarding race themselves, why do ethnic minorities continue to ignore Republicans at the ballot box? The image of the Republican Party being a White party is obviously an obstacle, but another problem that they might not be aware of is that people of color often don't think that Whites and Republicans come down hard enough on "their own" when they make remarks that disparage other groups.

    Put another way, whenever a Republican puts his foot in his mouth regarding issues of race or religion, it is usually Democrats who complain the loudest about it. While their outrage may be predictable and political, the fact remains that Republican outrage seems comparably muted to these voters, thus causing members of these "outgroups" to believe Republicans in general tacitly approve of the offensive or insensitive remarks by not condemning them strongly enough. Consider this piece I wrote last August regarding Tom Tancredo and his idea of bombing Mecca and Medina (the two holiest cities in Islam) to tell the terrorists that "America means business." Republicans tended to distance themselves from those remarks, but it was more because they viewed Tancredo as a fringe candidate instead of because of how offensive his remarks were.

    Compounding this is the lack of attention Republicans pay to reaching out to ethnic minority groups. Republicans may say they don't like pandering to various interest groups, but the way the Republican presidential candidates were essentially tripping over each other to appear more Christian, more conservative, more of an illegal immigration hardliner, more of a tax cutter, and more hawkish on defense than their rivals suggests otherwise. This hypocrisy suggests that Republicans are fine with pandering, so long as it doesn't involve people of color. That may not be true, but that's certainly how it comes across.

    Perhaps the most egregious snub of ethnic minority groups concerned the absence of the then leading Republican candidates (Giuliani, McCain, Romney, and Thompson) to participate in the Republican forum on Black issues hosted by Tavis Smiley at Morgan State University last September. Four empty podiums were set up on stage to signify their absence. It is simply not enough to say that you are committed to at least listening to the concerns of certain groups of people and then blow them off because of "scheduling conflicts" when you have the perfect opportunity to speak to them directly. There's no other way to spin that. Simply put, these Republicans need to show a bit more courage and not just "hunt where the ducks are."

    A cursory examination of voting patterns among people of color would suggest that Republicans are wise not to waste their time in infertile political environments. But this is foolish. Republicans write off the Black and Latino vote because they think they'll never be able to win a majority of their support. However, they don't need to win a majority of their support in order to put together a nearly unbeatable electoral base of support. Consider purple states like Missouri, Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Florida. If Republicans could bump up their percentage of Black support from 10% to 15%, for example, that would be enough to give Democrats heartburn and swing these politically competitive states and their congressional districts in their favor. But blowing them off as they did at Morgan State suggests they simply don't care.

    Given the Democratic Party's reliance on lower income voters and their perpetuation of class and racial differences, an argument can be made that they really don't deserve the support of people of color, many of whom are more likely than Whites to be poor. However, the Republican Party should be ashamed of its lack of outreach regarding these politically ripe constituencies. Rather than spending its money researching how to best attack a minority candidate, as the Politico addresses, they should invest more in voter outreach and explaining why they may be better able to address the needs of people of color than the Democrats who may take their support for granted.

    Here are some other entries from The 7-10 on this subject that may be of interest:

  • The Essence of Obama: Changing of the Guard
  • The Republicans' Small Tent
  • Not Sharp, Sharpton
  • Identity Politics: Risk vs. Reward
  • T.E.R.R.O.R.
  • Republicans and the Black Vote: Part 2
  • Oprah, Obama, and Race! Oh my!
  • Clinton vs. Obama: The Problem with Identity Politics
  • Barack Obama: A Second Look at Race

  • 2/21/2008

    Don't Expect an Obama-Clinton Ticket

    Barack Obama's lopsided victories in the Hawaii and Wisconsin primaries have made him the almost certain Democratic presidential nominee. Most of the states have voted, and most of the states that haven't yet done so are small states. The last plausible chance Hillary Clinton will have to catch Obama (or at least slow him down) is on March 4, when Texas and Ohio have their primaries. Once those contests are finished, the last major states will be Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Indiana. North Carolina is essentially off the table, given Obama's strength in the South Carolina and Virginia contests. And Indiana's demographics are quite similar to Wisconsin's, so that might be tough sledding for Clinton too. Pennsylvania seems a bit more doable, but if Obama takes Ohio first, Pennsylvania will be off the table as well. In short, barring some unforeseen event, it's looking increasingly obvious that the general election will come down to Obama vs. McCain.

    Because of how long and divisive this primary has been, no matter who emerges as the Democratic presidential nominee, that person will be charged with healing a severely fractured party. The Obama and Clinton camps simply don't like each other, and it seems that Democratic voters are pretty much set in terms of who they support. In other words, don't expect many Obama and Clinton voters to defect from one campaign to another at thie stage. If you're not a Clintonista by now, you never will be. And if you aren't an Obamamaniac yet, no one will hold their breath.

    In light of all this, there has been increased speculation that the best way for Obama and Clinton to bridge the gap and unite the party is to choose their rival as their running mate. Some people have refered to Clinton-Obama or Obama-Clinton as the Democratic dream team.

    Before I go any further, it would be prudent for me to offer these three words: Not gonna happen.

    Proponents of the "dream team" say that any combination of Obama and Clinton on the same ticket would unify the base and be a fundraising juggernaut. You could have the star power of the Clintons augmented by the star power of Obama, which would translate into incredible fundraising. And these same proponents say an Obama-Clinton ticket could lock up the women vote, the Black vote, and the Latino vote all at once. Seeing that those are three solidly Democratic constituencies, this presidential ticket would theoretically enter the general election with a high floor of support. This would allow them to make a play for swing voters, particularly independent or moderate suburbanites who might be more ideologically receptive to Clinton and/or Obama.

    That is the conventional wisdom. However, the reality of the Clinton-Obama dynamic would suggest that pairing them up on the same ticket is a really dumb idea.

    To start, Clinton needs Obama far more than Obama needs Clinton. After the scorched earth South Carolina campaign in which the Clintons offended a large chunk of Democrats, including most Blacks who subsequently left her campaign in droves, Clinton has been branded as an overly politicized, race-baiting opportunitist. Black voters in particular were quite offended by Clinton's South Carolina campaign and will have long memories regarding it. Sure, some of them will "come home" should the race come down to Clinton and a Republican. However, more of them will also be likely to simply sit this election out because they aren't enthused by her candidacy. So she will need to fortify her street cred among Black voters. Obama could help her do this, obviously, but even if he were to campaign for her, a lot of Blacks may mutter to themselves that Obama would have been the nominee had it not been for Clinton's dirty campaign tactics.

    While Clinton may need Obama to help ameliorate relationships among different Democratic constituencies, she offers comparatively little to Obama. Clinton is a walking contradiction of the crux of Obama's message: change. How can he claim to be the candidate of the future if he is teaming up with someone he has referred to as the candidate of the past? Why would he risk neutralizing the potency of his Iraq message by having his vice president exhibit "the mentality that got us into war in the first place?" Why would he put himself in a position to have to abandon his message of the triumph of hope over cynicism? Clinton is too antithetical to Obama's platform for her to be worthy of serious consideration as a vice president.

    Simple political geography also enters the equation here. Seeing that Clinton and Obama both hail from solidly blue states, neither candidate really expands the electoral map. Obama certainly has more appeal overall, but he does not put any new states in play by virtue of being "from there." With Obama at the helm, a Tim Kaine vice presidential nod, for example, would turn Virginia into a competitive state that Republicans could no longer take for granted. Evan Bayh could potentially do the same with Indiana and Clinton. Pairing Obama and Clinton up would only serve to make already blue states even bluer. Winning 75% of the vote in New York or Illinois might be good for running up the score in terms of the popular vote, but it won't count one iota in terms of the Electoral College.

    Obviously, both candidates have tremendous egos and are loathe to risk being overshadowed by their vice presidential nominee. Obama and Clinton are both political superstars. And throwing Bill Clinton into the mix only further complicates things. Bill and Hillary Clinton may serve as too much of a distraction for Barack Obama, just like Obama could take the limelight away from Clinton. Too much dischord and no center of gravity are a volatile mix that both candidates should be aware of.

    Should Obama become the nominee, he may come under increased pressure to select a woman as his vice presidential running mate. And Clinton may come under pressure to select a "Black" running mate (note my use of quotation marks). However, this would reek of identity politics and further buttress my argument that Republicans and conservatives may be better on issues of race and gender than so-called "open-minded" Democrats and liberals. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Obama choosing a woman as his vice presidential pick, but if he is doing it only to placate women, rather than add heft to his ticket, then Republicans would be able to argue that Obama is merely pandering. Potential politically attractive female picks include Janet Napolitano of Arizona, Kathryn Sebelius of Kansas, and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, all of whom are less polarizing than Hillary Clinton with the added bonus of hailing from red states. The only bonus Clinton adds to Obama is galvanizing Republicans and allowing them to run against their favorite nemesis even though Obama is at the top of the ticket. Obama would be wise to take a pass on that.

    People who consider an Obama-Clinton pairing as a "dream ticket" are definitely dreaming. However, the clock struck midnight on this idea a long time ago. Given the reality of the overall political situation involving both candidates, these proponents should not be taken seriously. As initially attractive as they may appear, they would only serve to drag their ticket down and make it harder for them to appeal to a wider swath of the electorate. And should that happen, this dream ticket will quickly become a one-way ticket to four more years of being locked out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

    1/14/2008

    Clinton vs. Obama: The Problem With Identity Politics

    The latest installment in the saga between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama involves a recent Clinton campaign event in which Clinton supporter Bob Johnson, president of Black Entertainment Television, told the crowd:

    "To me, as an African-American, I am frankly insulted the Obama campaign would imply that we are so stupid that we would think Hillary and Bill Clinton, who have been deeply and emotionally involved in black issues, [are not sincere in their commitment to racial equality] when Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood; I won't say what he was doing, but he said it in his book."
    It obviously doesn't take Einstein's kin to figure out that Johnson was alluding to Obama's past drug use, which he admitted to in his previous book. However, Johnson criticized the ensuing criticism by saying that his remarks were in regards to Obama's work as a community organizer "and nothing else [and that] any other suggestion is simply irresponsible and incorrect."

    In other words, Johnson got the media to explicitly say what he was merely implying. As a result, the media's explicity transferred ownership of Johnson's incendiary remarks to the media and technically absolved Johnson of guilt. Mission accomplished for the Clinton campaign. That's slash and burn politics at its finest.

    Johnson's cheapshots at Obama by making obvious references to Obama's previous bouts of irresponsibility are in concordance with how he often marginalizes Blacks on BET with its raunchy music videos and often tawdry language. So this does not come as a surprise to me.

    As for Clinton, however, she knows exactly what she's doing. And by continuing to campaign with people who make these same insinuations over and over again, she is tacitly approving their remarks. Here's how the game is played: Clinton will campaign with someone who makes a controversial remark about her political opponents. The media will then hype up these remarks and ask her to clarify or repudiate them. Clinton will then dismiss these questions by saying "that person does not speak for my campaign" and then try to take the high road by saying "I don't want to talk about political attacks. I want to talk about the issues." Meanwhile, the damage will ultimately be done courtesy of the media's replaying the remarks over and over again while Clinton puts just enough distance between herself and these inflammatory remarks to maintain plausible deniability. Of course, this strategy, while effective, seems odd for someone who commonly decries "the politics of personal destruction."

    The problem with Clinton's attacks is not so much that they are sticking, but rather that they risk turning Obama from "a candidate who happens to be Black" into "a Black candidate." The former is a formidable opponent with broad electoral appeal who can instill a great sense of pride in the Democratic Party and potentially emerge as the party's standard-bearer. The latter is a marginalized leader of one particular interest group she'll merely have to curry favor with in the future in order to shore up her base in a general election once she's the nominee.

    Obama has run a post-partisan and post-racial campaign with the ability to appeal to voters of all races and political persuasions. However, the more race is injected into the campaign (as was recently done when Clinton suggested that Martin Luther King had to rely on President Lyndon Johnson to get civil rights legislation passed), the more that undercuts his message of unity. Whites, who may be reminded of firebrands like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, may become less comfortable supporting him, and his future political victories may be tainted because they'd be attributed more to racial circumstances ("Did Obama win because of White guilt? Was it a Black rebellion against Clinton's attacks?") than to his own political acumen. The more Obama reminds voters of race, the better it is for Clinton, whose personal negatives are so high that she has nothing left to lose by taking the low road and engaging in race-baiting through surrogates. Bob Johnson is only the latest example of this.

    Should this whisper campaign fatally wound Obama and he not win the nomination, the Democratic Party will be severely fragmented. Clinton may have no choice but to choose Obama as her running mate then, even though this would put Obama in a serious bind. Were he to refuse Clinton's invitation, that could be seen as him being cold or partisan to someone who is extending an olive branch and trying to bury the hatchet. And if he were to accept her invitation, he would be pairing his message of hope and unity with a candidate who represents hardball politics and is a professional partisan. So he'd look like a hypocrite either way.

    There are signs that the incessant whispers and rumors about Obama have taken root in a lot of voters' minds. For example, one of the most popular search strings Google users use to find this blog is some combination of the words "Obama" and "flag," presumably in relation to the controversy that erupted when the "unpatriotic" Obama decided to no longer wear an American flag pin on his lapel last fall. (I wrote about that here.) It could also be related to the picture of Obama not placing his hand over his heart while the National Anthem was being played at a campaign event in Iowa last summer. Combine these stories with the whisper campaign involving his religion and it's possible that enough doubts will be planted in enough voters' minds to make them grudgingly revert to the "safe" choice of Hillary Clinton, even if they don't particularly like her.

    But Clinton's unfavorable ratings can't get much higher than they already are, so she doesn't have as much to lose by engaging in this sort of negative and dishonest campaigning. She has enough name recognition and enough infrastructure nationwide to win the nomination easily if Obama flames out. Dredging up his Obama's past and invoking fear by implication (ever notice how people commonly refer to him by his middle name even though nobody does that with the other candidates?) may be unseemly, but it is quite effective in defining a candidate before he can define himself.

    But this is a double-edged sword. Intelligent voters and those who don't take what candidates say at face value may be put off by this and either 1) stay home, which damages Obama because of his appeal to new voters; or 2) penalize Clinton by throwing their support to Obama, who they believe is the victim of kneecap politics. Clinton won New Hampshire on the backs of voters who felt she was being unfairly targeted by the media and her rivals. Will these unfair attacks backfire on her in South Carolina and beyond? After his second place showing in New Hampshire, is Obama a bit gun shy about responding to Clinton too aggressively? After all, in South Carolina, as goes Black women, so will go the Democratic primary.

    In light of Clinton's gender-tinged come from behind victory in the New Hampshire primary and the most recent racially-tinged remarks about Obama's past, the politics of race are now confronting the politics of gender. The Democratic Party needs both women and minorities (especially Blacks) in order to survive. Turning the Clinton vs. Obama storyline into a battle between "sisters and brothers" may only fracture the party so severely that they enter the general election as dispirited and as divided as the Republicans are at present. Voter turnout in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries so far suggests an enthusiasm gap in favor of the Democrats. But prolonging this proxy struggle over identity politics by using lowball tactics and feigned outrage may only turn a very winnable general election for the Democrats into another agonizing defeat.

    1/09/2008

    Clinton and Obama: What happened in New Hampshire?

    The results of the Iowa caucuses produced an absolute stunner last week when Barack Obama beat both Hillary Clinton and John Edwards by hefty margins.

    Not to be outdone, the New Hampshire primaries produced an even bigger stunner when Clinton somehow turned a roughly 7-12 point deficit in most tracking polls into a 3 point victory over Obama, the candidate who had all the momentum and enthusiasm. And this all happened in about a 24-hour span.

    Needless to say, there will be a flurry of "Comeback Kid: Part II" stories in the media to describe Clinton's improbable victory. However, because absolutely no one predicted this, something unforeseen was at work that nobody had picked up on.

    What on earth happened? Here are my theories, listed in no particular order:

    1. Stopping Barack Obama was more important than supporting Hillary Clinton. You all know the story. Obama is a first-term senator who recently left the Illinois state legislature. He has a brief resume and has often been criticized for not offering much specifics. His detractors have been clamoring about this for months, but he has never really been penalized for it. Perhaps New Hampshire voters viewed their primary as the last chance to put the brakes on this freight train before it left the station? Had Obama beaten Clinton as soundly as the polls suggested he would, Clinton would have been sent into a tailspin and would have had to endure certain defeats in Nevada and South Carolina before staging Super Tuesday as her Waterloo moment. Clinton's arguments about the importance of "experience" and Obama being "risky" may have had some resonance. Obama inspires voters to look for a healer, but Clinton reminds voters we are looking for a commander in chief. If this is what happened, this is a very potent line of attack that likely weighs heavily on the minds of many people. The Iowa caucuses eliminated all of the "experience" candidates on the Democratic side and there wasn't enough time for the sole surviving second-tier candidate (Bill Richardson) to effectively present his case to the voters. Advantage: Clinton.

    2. Obama was a victim of his own success. Is it possible that Obama's supporters thought his lead was so strong that they didn't have to turn out for him at the polls? Close races drive up voter turnout. Blowouts depress voter turnout. The McCain-Romney race was considered much closer, and McCain's base turned out for him. If this is what happened, then the blame would have to lie with Obama's supporters, who were reminded that bumper stickers, pep rallies, and yard signs don't win elections; votes do. Also keep in mind that the weather was unusually mild. Is it possible that Obama's younger base decided to stay home and take advantage of the rare 50-degree weather by spending Election Day in the mountains, rather than at the polls?

    3. The Douglas Wilder effect is alive and well. About 20 years ago, Virginia's Douglas Wilder became the first Black ever to be elected as a governor in the United States. Prior to his election, almost all tracking polls (including those of his White opponent) suggested that he would win the race by about 10 points. However, he ended up winning only by 1 point. The Douglas Wilder effect means that voters may tell pollsters one thing because they want to seem politically correct, but reveal their true biases in the privacy of the voting booth. Is this what happened in New Hampshire? The Douglas Wilder effect is what Blacks mean when they worry about Obama's "electability." The Iowa results encouraged Black voters, but the New Hampshire results likely gave them pause. Both states are 95+% White, so Blacks are likely hopeful, but cautious at the same time about Obama's chances.

    4. The "politics of pile-on" made women angry. Clinton was the recipient of a lot of tough attacks at the ABC debate last weekend. And she famously "became emotional" at a recent campaign event when she was asked how she was able to keep going on the campaign trail even though it entails so much stress. John Edwards took a swipe at her shortly thereafter by saying you have to be "tough" to be President. Pundits and the media wondered out loud if Clinton's "tears" were genuine or staged. And there was the recent debate question about how Clinton feels knowing that so many people simply don't like her. All of this combined to form a maelstrom that finally, even if only briefly, broke Clinton down and led to those tears. Men who were watching that event likely told their wives, daughters, female coworkers, and female friends that "this inability to handle pressure and contain themselves" is why women should never be President. These women likely took this personally and instantly identified with Clinton, as they too are often working multiple jobs where they may feel disrespected by their male bosses and male coworkers, only to come home and have to take care of the children, cook dinner, and deal with a husband who is not always appreciative of them and how hard they work. These women might not even "like" Clinton, but they do respect her as a hardworking professional...a professional woman. Remember the 2000 Senate race she had with Rick Lazio in which Lazio entered Clinton's personal space, got in her face, and tried to intimidate her. Women watching that debate likely recoiled in anger about that and punished him at the polls. If this is what happened here, then the media are to blame because they have been unfairly tough on her. Also, Barack Obama probably wants to backhand John Edwards and tell him to get out of the race because his remarks about "toughness" didn't help.

    I do not know which of these factors is most responsible for explaining the results of the Democratic primary, but there will likely be a serious discussion about the validity of polls and the methodology involved because nobody was expecting this. Why were all the polls wrong? Obama was expecting to win handily, and even Clinton was hoping to keep her loss to him in the single-digits. Where this hidden Clinton vote (or anti-Obama vote?) came from is anybody's guess, but the fact that this vote stood in such stark contrast to everyone's most rational expectations of this race is a testament to the unpredictability of politics and will keep this race from being a blowout. Obama will not waltz to the nomination and he will have to do more than "inspire" his way to victory. Clinton knows she will have to retool her campaign because the old way of doing things simply isn't working as well as it used to, as Obama's strength shows.

    I plan to write a more general post later about the consequences of the Democratic and Republican primary results in terms of what they mean for various candidates, but I just had to assess the disconnect between everyone's predictions and reality regarding Clinton and Obama because it was just a bit too unexpected.

    What a race...

    4/13/2007

    I Am, Imus, I Was: Final Thoughts

    I am about sick of all the media coverage surrounding this Rutgers/Imus firestorm. Just as I feared, everybody's arguing about the wrong thing...again.

    Obviously, Imus said something stupid. And he was rightly condemned for it.

    Now everyone is talking about racism and sexism. I can understand that too because "nappy-headed hos" conveniently conjoins both issues.

    Then the discussion morphed to hypocrisy in the Black community regarding hip hop and gangsta rap music in terms of "niggaz, hos, and bitches." That's nothing new, so I'm not sure why people are just realizing this double standard now. But again, I can understand why people are talking about this too.

    But everybody seems to be missing the point though. It's not about the coarsening of our culture. It's not about racism, sexism, and hypocrisy. It's about who is fair game and who should be off limits. The Rutgers women's basketball team consists mainly of 18-20-year olds who are mere college students. Let me say that again. They are 18-20-year old college students. Don Imus's radio show is generally a politics and news-oriented program. His guests consist primarily of journalists, senators, congressmen, consultants, and other public figures. Hardball combat is nothing new to these people. These people are used to being called liars, thieves, terrorist sympathizers, unpatriotic, baby-eaters, and everything else under the sun and in cracks in the sidewalk.

    But it's grossly unfair to level such a hardball attack on a bunch of 18-20-year old college students. These kids don't have the lawyers, consultants, press secretaries, PR staff, and crisis communication/rapid response war room staffs to rebut these kinds of attacks. They are simply college kids trying to get an education while playing a bit of roundball on the side. They did a damn good job this season by making it to the national championship game (even if they beat Duke on the way there). They have no idea how to respond to hardballs. They have absolutely nothing to do with the bare knuckles world of journalism and politics. But Imus drew them into this nonsense with his loose cannon jaw.

    What kind of world are we living in when powerful, famous, well-connected people can call out Average Joes who are just trying to make a living--often more honorably than they are? I can scream from my rooftop that President Bush a World Class Loser, but it doesn't mean anything because nobody knows who Anthony Palmer is, nor does anybody care. But Bush can't say on national television that Anthony Palmer is a loser because it's unbecoming of someone who has that much influence and it makes him come across like a bully who should pick on someone his own size. Imus is no different. Even if he toned down his remarks and referred to the Rutgers women as "unattractive," he'd still be guilty of doing the exact same thing I'm railing about in this blog.

    Nobody's talking about this though. Instead, they want to bring Al Sharpton into their television studios for "analysis," run stories about hip hop videos with half-naked women cavorting around the screen, and speculate about whether Imus's punishment fits the crime. Absolutely incredible. Everyone's outrage is misplaced.

    Big people shouldn't pick on little people. Period.

    4/11/2007

    Nappy heads, empty heads, and getting ahead...

    How many times have I heard this story?

    Some guy makes a boneheaded, culturally insensitive remark and then gets blasted and hammered by everyone under the sun. The aforementioned bonehead then issues apologies expressing various degrees of contrition, which are usually related to how much heat that person's superiors are taking. Journalists then invite the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton onto their news programs for "analysis" and "the Black perspective," thus further muddying the waters and spewing so much nonsense that the original bonehead comes across a bit more rationally and everyone then forgets why we called him a bonehead in the first place.

    Sound familiar?

    MSNBC personality Don Imus obviously stepped in it with his recent remarks about the Rutgers women's basketball team. Even if he was trying to be funny, it came across really crass. Even if the guy doesn't have a racist bone in his body, it would be very hard to deny the fact that he's a jerk. I don't need to say anymore about that though because one could easily find this type of reaction on any cable news program or traditional syndicated column. And besides, that's not the point of this post.

    My beef is with Al Sharpton. Because I am still moving boxes and receiving deliveries, I have the temporary luxury of being able to keep the television on all day. So I had the pleasure of catching Rev. Sharpton on CNN in the afternoon and MSNBC in the evening. It appears that he gave an interview with Matt Lauer on the Today Show in the morning as well. And in each interview, he came across as some rabid, infallible, fire-breathing windbag with a permanent chip on his shoulder. He bristled at some of the more stinging (but entirely valid) questions posed to him, such as "Have you not been guilty of making similar inflammatory remarks?" or "Do you believe everyone should have a chance at redemption?" Instead, he opted to repeat his litany of complaints about Imus' "numerous incidents of racism" and demanded that he be fired.

    Granted, Rev. Sharpton has a right to his opinion. And I agree with a lot of what he says. However, the way he comes across is so off-putting that it prevents people from actually being able to take in his message. He is so antagonizing that he puts people on the defensive and causes them to focus more on him than on what he actually says. It burns me up to see these journalists refer to Sharpton as a "leading Black community leader" or a "voice of the Black community." I really wish journalists weren't so lazy when it came to trying to get the "Black perspective." Sharpton and Jackson are too media-hungry and too misguided. Firebreathers like Sharpton allow a totally legitimate issue and gripe to become a shoutfest between the noisemakers on the fringes of the political spectrum while alienating everyone else in between. The Rutgers coach and the team members themselves have handled themselves with far more maturity, class, and dignity than any of these "leaders" such as Sharpton.

    As a Black man, listening to Sharpton embarrasses me. It makes me so angry to read letters to the editor in my local newspaper talking dismissively about Black attitudes because they feel their thinking is in line with Sharptons'. Now, I must state that I respect Sharpton's commitment to civil rights, and I appreciate his struggles for equality and justice. Unfortunately, because I come from a later generation, I am not sure I could ever fully appreciate his sacrifices. But man, I really wish this guy would just shut up sometimes.

    Al Sharpton, please go away.

    One other interesting angle to this story is the responses to it by the 2008 presidential candidates. Almost all of them have been a bit slow on commenting on this, presumably because they didn't want to get involved with this live grenade. After all, who wants to be seen as "a bigot sympathizer" or "someone who is on the same page as Al Sharpton?" Could you imagine the negative campaign ads that would result? But I must admit that this bit of calculation and delay was a bit disappointing. I can understand their possible reasons for their delayed responses, but I would have appreciated a bit more leadership from the candidates regarding this issue. McCain and Giuliani seem to be following the "redemption" and "everybody deserves a second chance" routes. Surely some contradictory quotes involving Bill Clinton will surface on YouTube shortly. And the outrage some of the Democrats are expressing seems a bit phony as well because if Imus's comments were so "over the top" or so "out of line," why didn't they call a spade a spade as soon as it happened?

    Anyways, at least the nation is talking about issues of race and gender and hip hop and gangster rap. We should thank Imus for that because these discussions are long overdue. Hopefully a discussion about Sharpton's relevance to the Black community will ensue as well.

    Enough is enough--of all of this nonsense.

    2/19/2007

    On Biases

    One reason why the 2008 campaign is drawing so much attention among the chattering classes is the "first" factor. The nation has the chance to elect the "first" Black president (Obama), the "first" female president (Hillary), the "first" Latino president (Richardson), or even the "first" Mormon president (Romney). All four of these candidates are viable in my estimation. The fact that they can transcend racial, gender, or even religious barriers is a testament to the progress America has made regarding prejudice and tolerance.

    Or has it?

    There was an interesting USA Today/Gallup Poll that came out a few days ago that asked respondents the following question (which I paraphrased):

    If your party nominated a generally well-qualified __________, would you be comfortable voting for that person?

    This question was completed by adding the words "Black," "woman," and "Mormon." Here are the results:

    84% of respondents said they would "comfortably" vote for a Black candidate; 9% would vote for one, although they would have some "reservations" with doing so; 5% said they would not vote for that candidate; and 1% had no opinion.

    78% of respondents said they would vote "comfortably" for a woman, 10% would vote with "reservations," 11% would not vote for such a candidate, and 1% expressed no opinion.

    58% of respondents would vote comfortably for a Mormon candidate, 14% would vote for such a candidate with "reservations," 24% would not vote for such a candidate, and 4% expressed no opinion.

    I could spend all day talking about the implications of this poll data because it's a real eye-opener. But unfortunately, it's an eye-opener for all the wrong reasons.

    Let's examine these issues one at a time.

    Considering that the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts are not even 50 years old, it is encouraging to see such high levels of support among the citizenry regarding Black and minority candidates in general. It would be pollyanaish or naive to lament the fact that there is still a sizeable chunk of the population that continues to harbor such prejudices in this day and age, but instead of focusing on the 1 out of 20 open racists (The US population is 300 million; 5% of that is 1.5 million, which is roughly the population of Montana and Wyoming combined), it would be better to rejoice in the fact that about 9 out of 10 people could presumably be counted on to put their money where their mouth is.

    However, is the support among the so called "comfortable" voters really that solid? When Douglas Wilder became the nation's first Black governor, the election results were far closer than the polls had suggested. One could only conclude that White voters would tell pollsters one thing while doing something entirely different in the privacy of the voting booth. However, that was in 1988. Now it's almost 20 years later. Massachussetts elected the nation's second Black governor ever in Deval Patrick, and he won in a landslide. And even though Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee lost his Senate race last November, he actually performed 3-5 points better than the polls predicted. So maybe, just maybe White voters are more tolerant of being governed by Blacks than Blacks are willing to give them credit for.

    The arguments against a female candidacy tend to center around one issue: the need to display strength and firmness when addressing conflicts. How would a female president have responded on September 11? Or when the levees broke? Or when the bomb ripped the federal building in Oklahoma City to shreds? Could a woman really be trusted to go toe to toe with the world's worst dictators and hold up against the pressures that come with the presidency?

    Of course, a potent counterargument would be that men have done a lousy job of handling these issues, so perhaps a woman really is needed to "clean house." Psychologically speaking, women are more relational or communal characters, while men are more individualistic. Perhaps a woman's desire to find common ground or at least reach out to others could be useful in the diplomatic sense.

    I suspect, however, that there's a large section of the male electorate that has an insecurity with successful women, especially if the woman in question makes more money, has more education, or has more accomplishments under her belt than they do. This is often true in the dating world, as men often feel threatened by women who occupy higher positions on the socioeconomic ladder. Think about it. It's much more common for the husband to be the working professoinal while his wife is the part-timer, the housewife, or the full-time worker in a junior position. It's much less common to see an attorney wife with a truck driver husband. If a wife is an attorney, I'd be willing to bet that her husband is a university professor, a dentist, or a scientist of some sort. The idea that a successful woman can threaten a man's ego is a foolish reason not to support a female candidate for president. However, this is a very real issue to many people. Thus, these poll data seem about right to me.

    Admittedly, the results of this poll regarding the Mormon candidacy took me by surprise. 3 out of 5 people is not a particularly high level of support when it comes to being open-minded enough to potentially consider you before you even begin to express your policy positions. And the fact that your religion makes your candidacy a nonstarter for 1 out of 4 people is almost mind-boggling. I do not know how this 24% broke down in terms of political orientation. My kneejerk reaction is to assume the bulk of these people are religious conservatives or evangelical Christians that view Mormonism as a cult. Those on the left seem a bit more inclusive or tolerant regarding other faiths, as is exhibited by the "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays" debate.

    So let's just assume for the sake of argument that most of these stalwarts are evangelical Christians. While I am not an authority on the Mormon faith at all, you would think that the fact that a Mormon is a believer in God would endear Mormons to mainstream Christians on at least a basic level. After all, their ire seems to be trained more towards athiests.

    Unfortunately, the Mormon Church has had its image tarnished by polygamy and racism. The polygamy practice, however, largely died about 100 years ago. The racism charge is almost as laughable because this supposedly Christian nation is the same nation that sanctioned slavery, codified Jim Crow, established internment camps, and publicized lynchings. So it seems like the pot calling the kettle black in this regard.

    Obviously, the Mormon candidate in the race is Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachussetts. I highly doubt Gov. Romney is going to legalize polygamy during his tenure in the White House. After all, he's the only top tier GOP candidate who is still on his first wife. And even if Romney did decide to take up the polygamy crusade, do you honestly think Congress will go along with him?

    The "Mormons are racist" line of thinking, by the way, makes even less sense to me. While the North was certainly not a racially harmonious paradise in the past, I have a hard time accepting the notion that Romney is a racist simply because he is a Mormon. How could Romney ever have gotten elected as the governor of Massachussetts of all places with such views?

    I personally don't care one way or the other about the teachings of the Mormon Church, but the arguments against a Mormon candidate just don't wash with me. These arguments seem to be based on fear. Actually, you could say that about all of these counterarguments. However, my sense is that there are a lot of voters out there who are inclined to send a message next Election Day, even if they don't agree with the candidates' views. Sometimes a President can transform a populace by his (or her!) very existence. Such a candidate can get the nation to talk about these issues in a way that no civil rights or feminist leader ever could. This bodes well for Romney, Obama, Clinton, and Richardson.

    Copyright 2007-2008 by Anthony Palmer. This material may not be republished or redistributed in any manner without the expressed written permission of the author, nor may this material be cited elsewhere without proper attribution. All rights reserved. The 7-10 is syndicated by Newstex.