Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Maybe Ferraro has a point

She says that Obama is only where he is in the polls because he's black. Well, that lucky ducky! Sure, I can see that. He's definitely benefited from the support of blacks in the Democratic primaries.

Now, as Josh Marshall points out, you have to counterbalance that with the fact that a lot of white people won't vote for him because he's black. Ferraro says, in the interview linked above, "Sexism is a bigger problem... It's OK to be sexist in some people's minds. It's not OK to be racist."

Granted, it's not OK to admit to being racist. But does she seriously believe that there are no racists left in the United States because it's just not OK?

But for the sake of discussion, I'm willing to grant her this point: Obama has benefited from both the support of black voters who support Obama at least in part because of the color of his skin and from the support of white voters for the same reason. The old liberal race guilt thing. I'm quite willing to admit that I think it's thrilling that a black man is so close to becoming President. Certainly part of the enthusiasm for his candidacy across the board is the history in the making, the sense that his election would in some way and in some small part correct one of the original founding sins of this country.

And this is a historic election. Because women did not get the vote in this country until even after black men, those who were mere property becoming (at least de jure) members of the body politic even before women. So we've got people who are supporting Obama at least in part because he's black and...

We've got people who are supporting Clinton at least in part because she's a woman.

And not just a woman. Let's turn Ferraro's assertion back at her preferred candidate. Hillary Clinton is in this race not just because she's a woman, but because of the fact that she's a woman married to a powerful man. She benefits twice over from these accidents of circumstance.

I live in a town with a pretty significant lesbian population and they overwhelmingly support Hillary. Do you think it's because they all happen to have exactly the same issues on health care reform and relations with countries perceived to be hostile to the U.S.? The positions on the status of NAFTA and future trade negotiations as well as environmental policies? I think they probably do support much of Hillary's platform. And I'm sure that they support much of Hillary's platform because it's Hillary's platform and she's a woman and they're voting for (or really have voted for; the primary's already happened here) the first serious woman candidate for the Presidency.

But Hillary benefits from that support because she's a woman. And she's a woman in that position because she's married to Bill Clinton.

So I score it this way:

  • Obama benefits from being black, but blacks comprise only 13% of the population. Clinton benefits from being a woman, and women comprise 52% of the population. Advantage: Clinton.

  • Hillary has accomplished little that doesn't rely on her position as Bill Clinton's wife. I'm not saying that if she wasn't married to Bill Clinton that she wouldn't now be a formidable person in her own right. But she was mentioned as a Presidential candidate (and got her Senate seat as a clear carpetbagger) even prior to Bill leaving office in 2001 in large part because she was his wife. Obama is no fortunate son, brother, friend, or husband. Advantage: Clinton.
So fair enough, Geraldine: Barack benefits because he's black. But in the benefits sweepstakes, Hillary takes the prize.

Update: Kevin Drum piles on.

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