Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Is It About Race, Or About Getting Noticed

It's tough to be a white man who wants to run for President. To be taken seriously you need an impressive résumé. Unless you're wealthy. Or your dad was President (and you're a wealthy heir). Or you're really wealthy. Or you're filthy stinkin' rich. Or your name is Kennedy. Or to have played the President on the teevee. There's also something about "being in the right place at the right time" - something that could never happen to a white guy.

So let's look at the remark that got Geraldine Ferraro into so much trouble.
"I think what America feels about a woman becoming president takes a very secondary place to Obama's campaign - to a kind of campaign that it would be hard for anyone to run against," she said. "For one thing, you have the press, which has been uniquely hard on her. It's been a very sexist media. Some just don't like her. The others have gotten caught up in the Obama campaign.

"If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position," she continued. "And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept." Ferraro does not buy the notion of Obama as the great reconciler.

"I was reading an article that said young Republicans are out there campaigning for Obama because they believe he's going to be able to put an end to partisanship," Ferraro said, clearly annoyed. "Dear God! Anyone that has worked in the Congress knows that for over 200 years this country has had partisanship - that's the way our country is."
Ferraro is sticking to her words, while the Clinton campaign "disagrees". Maureen Dowd (of all people) provides some additional context:
Geraldine Ferraro, who helped Walter Mondale lose 49 states in 1984, was clearly stung at what she considered Obama’s easy rise to celebrity and electoral success. Last Friday, Ms. Ferraro, who is on Hillary’s national finance committee, told The Daily Breeze, a small newspaper in Torrance, Calif.: “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color), he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.”

Obama acknowledged when he arrived in the Senate that he got more attention, his big book deal and his celebrity, because he is not white. He was only the third black senator elected since Reconstruction.

But as he campaigned here Tuesday, he was outraged at Ferraro’s comments. “They are divisive,” he said. “I think anybody who understands the history of this country knows they are patently absurd.”
Here's the deal. Getting noticed, for the most part, isn't enough to get you taken seriously. The insulting part of Ferraro's comment is not so much that Obama's race helped him get noticed; it's the implication that it's the only reason he was noticed, and that it's the only reason he remains a serious contender in the race. Beyond that, as Josh Marshall asks, "Can anyone seriously claim that it's an asset to be an African-American in a US presidential race?"

The same can be asked of gender - look at the media coverage of Clinton. And I suspect that Ferraro is correct that were Obama a female of any race, with all else being equal, he would not have been taken seriously as a Presidential contender. Within the right context, being African American or being female can help you "get noticed", but it's no free pass.

Putting political beliefs aside for the moment, were he to have tried to run as a Democrat this time around how many days do you think G.W. Bush's campaign would have lasted? Both Clinton and Obama are far superior candidates as compared to our sitting President. Stripped of his family name and fortune, a candidate as mediocre as Bush wouldn't have lasted a day.

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