Although it might seem like ancient history for 20-somethings, it wasn’t so long ago when women had little chance of stepping outside the kitchen to make real differences in the public and private sector. Because of this, I was elated when Hillary Clinton, who personifies accomplishment and merit-based opportunity, emerged as a legitimate presidential candidate.
I had hoped that the 2000-year bondage of women might end, so I resented Barack Obama’s entry into the race, which threatened that dream. When he won in Iowa, I wanted to be angry.
Obama’s moving speeches, however, made it difficult to keep anger and disappointment alive. I recognize his magic: his intelligence, inspiring oratory, and themes of hope and change are what the nation craves. His appeal is intoxicating — especially to young idealists — but the dark cloud of questionable electability that faces Hillary also looms large over Obama.
Doubtless brighter and more articulate than George W. Bush, Obama has not used race as a crutch, and the media has not made race an issue (as they have gender). In lily-white Iowa, he transcended race. Then, independent New Hampshire leveled the playing field between the potential first female or first black president
The electability of a tough female such as Hillary has been extensively debated. Yet if Obama heads the Democratic ticket, his race may be a negative factor for many voters. For reasons of “political correctness,” people don’t reveal that they would prefer to elect the devil himself rather than someone they consider a “nigger.” While we may like to think that such thinking is mostly consigned to the past, an otherwise intelligent and accomplished man expressed this bigoted point of view during a recent dinner party. It terrifies me, but I believe he represents millions.
When a John McCain supporter referred to Hillary as “that bitch,” McCain never distanced himself from the insult to a Senate colleague and former first lady. If the supporter had used the N-word, would McCain have reacted differently?
While the word “bitch” barely causes a ripple, no one can deny the ongoing presence of a reservoir of racial prejudice, overt and subliminal, in this country. And to paraphrase Churchill, Hillary might be a warmer and fuzzier woman by November, but Obama will still be black.
Iowa Republicans chose folksy extremist Mike Huckabee over Mormon flip-flopper Mitt Romney. Democrats need to ask how many similar voters, along with others, will choose a Republican nominee whom they perceive as a bulwark against a black liberal in the White House.
We don’t know the answer, because no one wants to ask that question — and because voters will never admit their bigotry to pollsters.
Despite the chorus that Democrats must win in 2008, lest the country be doomed, most voting Americans just want a president they can love; one with whom they feel comfortable, and who, coincidentally, may guide the country to peace and prosperity. For Iowa caucus-goers, that was Obama; in New Hampshire, women led a groundswell for one of their own. Now a black man and a woman — both pioneers — challenge a nation yearning for “change.”