MASCOT POLITICS: How 'groupthink' trumps issues
By Alan Nathan
Published February 4, 2008
A few months ago, Barack Obama rightly accused fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton of "hiding behind her gender." Of course, she can now argue that Mr. Obama is similarly hiding behind his race. Had they and their advocates practiced half the equality they preach, their bad-faith arguments might have been as quickly abandoned by them as they were immediately scorned by us.
Poor Mrs. Clinton. She was skewered by Democratic rivals merely because she agreed to disagree with herself on whether or not drivers' licenses should be issued to illegal aliens during an Oct. 31 debate. Mrs. Clinton threw down the gender-card after being held to a universal standard because it was unlike the one to which she had grown more accustomed — her own. One can't help but ask: How does she convincingly run as an equal while demanding special treatment predicated on sex? After Mr. Obama trounced Mrs. Clinton in Iowa , it appeared that he was headed for another win. According to the Jan. 6 CNN/WMUR New Hampshire Primary Tracking Poll taken only a couple of days before that state's primary, Mr. Obama had been leading Mrs. Clinton with 39 percent of the vote to her 30 percent. Then, through the auspices of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, her campaign reminded the press of Mr. Obama's own brushes with inconsistency.
Mr. Clinton sharply rebuked him on ABC television, saying, "You said in 2004 you didn't know how you would have voted on the [ Iraq ] resolution. You said in 2004 'there was no difference between you and George Bush on the war.' " He then went on to characterize Mr. Obama's disconnect from these facts as constituting "the biggest fairy tale" he had ever seen.
This of course went to undercutting two of Mr. Obama's strongest rallying points in the Democratic Party — that he had always been against the Iraq war as well as President Bush's prosecution of it. As seemingly planned, both Mr. Clinton's outburst and his wife's tears at a New Hampshire diner were credited for the two-point upset victory enjoyed by Mrs. Clinton.
Then we witnessed an extraordinary thing. Mr. Obama's sympathizers turned to his color as Mrs. Clinton's had to her sex. Donna Brazile, Democratic strategist and former presidential campaign manager for Al Gore, took great offense to the former president's remarks. On CNN she complained that, "For him to go after Obama using 'fairy tale,' calling him a 'kid,' as he did last week, it's an insult. And I tell you, as an African American, I find his words and his tone to be very depressing." She tells us this "as an African American."?
Knowingly or not, Miss Brazile appeared to be signaling that you should be exempt from political ridicule if you happen to be a black candidate. Whatever happened to at least appearing as if you live by the principles you espouse? Can anyone seriously defend either of these two without altering the normal standards and measures to which we're all suppose to be held when discussing matters of race and gender? It's not very likely.
Most repellant is how each has made cheap use out of historic struggles for tactical gains not justified. Sexism and racism are unforgivable, but falsely charging a soul for either crime should brand the accuser as the actual culprit of the practice in question. Why? Because if unchallenged, it accomplishes the same evil in that race and gender are still getting used as means for invalid ends.
Sadly, this proclivity dates back centuries as William Shakespeare can always remind us: "Thou concludest like the sanctimonious pirate, that went to sea with the Ten Commandments, but scraped one out of the table." And their general race/gender mind set continued during the Democratic debate in Hollywood, Calif. at the Kodak Theater on Jan. 31. With Mr. Obama nodding in affirmation, Mrs. Clinton used both her sex and his skin color to their mutual benefit against the GOP by saying: "Neither of us, just by looking at us, you can tell we are not more of the same. We will change our country."
Surely if it's egregious to oppose candidates because of their anatomy and skin, then it's no less superficial to let those same motives drive your support. After recently speaking so stirringly about Martin Luther King's legacy, both senators seem to have conveniently forgotten that his gauge for determining someone's value was, "the content of their character." If we're all equal in potential with our capabilities, the same must be true with our fallibilities — par with the good, par with the bad. However, if that sounds too easy, fine. Let us take a very personal anti-bigotry test and see who passes.
If you can embrace the fiancé of your son, daughter, sister, brother, divorced or widowed mother or father (regardless of that fiancé's race, ethnicity, religion or sexual persuasion), then you are indeed a soldier-of-equality. If you can't, we've got a couple of campaigns waiting for you.