Ism #1: Racism.
Jonathan Darman reports for Newsweek that, even though Hillary Clinton is more popular among white voters than Barack Obama, John McCain is even more popular among white voters than Hillary Clinton. However, for a Democrat,
Clinton’s white support is unusually high: at a comparable point in the 2004 election, Democratic nominee John Kerry received the support of 36 percent of white voters, compared to George W. Bush’s 48 percent, and in June of 2000, Bush led Al Gore 48 percent to 39 percent.
I believe I read somewhere that African Americans are the only voting demographic that never gave George Bush a majority of popular support, even during his glory days after 9/11. This, I believe, gives African Americans bragging rights as the smartest voting demographic.
Conversely, we might ask ourselves, Why are so many white voters so stupid? I’ll give that some thought.
A recent Newsweek poll suggests a “lurking racial bias in the American electorate,” Darman writes. Do tell. I’m not surprised by racism. I’m surprised people are surprised by racism.
Shortly after Obama declared his candidacy last year, I got a call from some guy from BBC radio who wanted to know if Americans were ready to elect a black POTUS. I said I didn’t know. In truth, I figured in a general election an outstanding black candidate might win some northeastern and West Coast states, but not much else. Now it appears Obama is a serious contender in most states outside the Deep South-Appalachia axis. This is heartening. Darman continues,
In 2000, only 37 percent of voters thought the country was ready for a black president. Now, 70 percent of voters think a black candidate like Obama could win the White House.
Responders weren’t being asked if they personally wanted a black candidate to win the White House; just whether they thought one could. They might have been overestimating the racism of fellow voters in 2000 and underestimating it now. Or, perhaps the difference is that in 2000 those polled were presented with a Generic Black Candidate, whose blackness was his only identifying feature. In 2008 there’s a complex and multifaceted flesh-and-blood human being running for president who is black. That’s a whole ‘nother thing.
And Obama is not running as The Black Candidate. If he had, he would have done even worse among whites, I’m sure.
Ism #2: Sexism.
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is running as The Woman Candidate. It’s a sales point she seems to emphasize more and more as time goes on.
I recall the first time she brought up Being the First Woman President in one of last year’s “gang” debates with the multitude of Dem candidates. I thought it odd that she would present herself as a groundbreaker while there was an African American on the stage with her. It spoke volumes that she didn’t take him seriously.
As someone who is close to the Senator’s age, I well remember Second Wave feminism. Those were heady times, as the movement helped women achieve positions previously held only by men. Clinton is trying to evoke the spirit of Second Wave feminism in her campaign.
But I thought the ultimate goal of feminism was to create a society in which women would be treated as individuals, not as stereotypes. Clinton seems to want to have it both ways, complaining about sexism while presenting herself as the Generic Woman Candidate. However, Senator Clinton is a complex and multifaceted flesh-and-blood human being. There are a great many reasons one may choose to support or not support her that have nothing to do with her being female.
Further, some of Clinton’s supporters will, on Monday, complain that Clinton is only losing the nomination battle because of sexism and on Tuesday argue that Obama is unelectable because of racism. Well, then, I guess we’re screwed either way, huh?
In a recent interview, Clinton denied the campaign had been particularly racist but complained it has been way too sexist. IMO there’s some truth in this. The racism so far (other than what the Clintons have churned out themselves) has been kept low to the ground or confined to Faux Nooz and affiliates. Sexism, on the other hand, has been woven tightly into most news coverage and commentary about Clinton. But it’s not as if the sexism is going to go away for the general election, or that she’ll be awarded extra Degree of Difficulty votes if it’s her against the white guy.
And to argue, as Clinton did, that somehow sexism is a worse problem than racism is offensive. As I said above, if Barack Obama had run as The Black Candidate he would have been out of the race a long time ago. Clinton, however, has gone a long way as The Woman Candidate.
Does she honestly think that Obama’s strongest non-racial demographic groups — younger and better-educated progressive voters — are especially sexist? Or that these voters are more sexist than general election voters as a whole? Please.
I predict the first woman president will be an accomplished politician who will not run as The Woman Candidate, but as herself.
Ism #3: Ageism.
I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I’ve heard that in polls older voters are more concerned about McCain’s age than younger voters. Interesting, if true.
Inasmuch as voting for POTUS is, for some, about electing a National Daddy, I would think age by itself might not be that much of a handicap. Age combined with apparent infirmity is another matter, however. As JFK used to say, a President has to have vigor. (JFK was, of course, hiding some of his own infirmities.)
Being a silvery-haired white guy buys McCain some support that Obama or Clinton would have to work for, but being a really old silvery-haired white guy does work against him, I suspect.
Update: Spot on commentary by Terence Samuel.