Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Bigot Spigot

America as a nation has not suddenly become entirely color blind and gender neutral. Yet, the very recent willingness to go for Presidential candidates who aren't white men is new and refreshing. Regardless of the nominees and victor, there's bound to be positive residual change.

Those who can only tolerate pasty-faced, Y/X chromosome politicians can stick with the Republicans for the time being.

The MSM are not entirely lame. Quite a few have noted that so far gender and race have not been obvious issues in this quest for becoming POTUS. In fact, only Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have raised it, and then only to say that electing them would be historic firsts.

As evidence, the first caucuses state and first primary state appear solidly in Obama's column. Iowa went for him and he should do the same in New Hampshire today. At least in these two places, the MSM notes that they are among the whitest in the nation, as in:
  • Iowa — 91% white and 2.5% black
  • New Hampshire — 97% white and 1.3% black
In this vein, the Pollyanna award goes to the wonderfully ignorant and self-absorbed piece in Slate by Ann Applebaum from England. She holds that Hillary's real problem with the voters is being like George Bush the Lesser "when the flaws of oligarchy and dynasty are on display as never before." That's a lot more analytical than our voters are. Moreover, she writes that her expatriate chums would vote for Barack Obama "precisely because he is black. At least that would show all our snotty foreign friends that we really aren't governed by dynasties. At least that will make us feel, once again, that we come from a country where any child really can grow up to be president." Yeah, that'll work, Mo and Curly.

Much of the rest of the MSM has some coded race messages, centering on acceptable Blacks. For boomers and older this likely recalls the paper-bag test. Back then, light-skinned Blacks could pass for white or at least get into parties and maybe Greek organizations. Otherwise, as the expression went, if you're Black, go back.

Other code words include electable. Those who aren't eager to tunnel into their feelings can dismiss non-white and female candidates out of hand by saying they would vote for them, if only they thought they wouldn't hold back their party.

Both of those concepts may get flushed for this election. It's possible that there's too much at stake to let bigotry sentence the nation to more of the same for four or more years.

Whether electing a Black President or a woman President would be a tidal wave or just a ripple remains to be seen. It can only be positive though. It's like with the long-term habit of daily newspapers having so many applicants that they only hire family, friends and classmates of employees. Who can estimate how many great reporters and writers end up in another profession with their slots filled with marginal facsimiles?

It's past time for a better-than-marginal President.

Over in that other party, unfortunately for both Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney, the Republican administrations of Ronald Reagan and George Bush the Lesser actively set a religious tone, de facto setting up a religious test as forbidden in our Constitution. Various GOP POTUS would-be sorts have played their God card. There's no swapping it out with the dealer now.

These same Presidents who layered religiosity on our national political cake failed us in such dramatic ways that we are looking for solutions. We don't have the luxury of personal prejudice. We are coming up on 4,000 American soldiers dead in Iraq, we are up to our chins in debt that our grandchildren will still face, our currency is worth a bag of beans, and our present and future are less secure in every way than since WWII.

Facing all that and more, Americans are turning down their bigot spigots. Maybe they think women are unstable and Blacks inferior. Looking at the long-term abject failures of white males has simulated openness. It's like the troops say about not having prejudices when your lives depend on each other.

Amusingly enough, the religion spigot is dripping too. Non-scientifically, I predicted early on here and here that South Carolinians wouldn't go for a Mormon. I hold with that. It isn't entirely Mormonism, rather a reflection of the moment and of the particular candidate.

When Mitt's dad, George, ran for president 40 years ago, his Mormonism was much less of an issue and even mentioned for very different reasons. As a NY Times piece put it:
Some challenges are different. Attention to George Romney’s membership in the Mormon Church concentrated on its policy at the time of excluding blacks from full participation. Today, the conservative Christian movement is focusing scrutiny on Mormon theology itself.
That's right, boys and girls, George claimed civil-rights cred, but practiced a religion that relegated Blacks, members or not, to lesser status. He didn't get slammed for funky religious practice, rather for institutional bigotry of the time.

Unfortunately for Mitt, he is a shape-shifting sales type and both GOP and self-identified conservative ranks are infested with extreme evangelicals. In their world, Biblical orthodoxy turns their bigot spigots on full. No matter what form Mitt tries to take, he's not like them.

I contend that on the GOP side, this religious bigotry will split the vote. It was one thing with George the Lesser talked spongy and apparently united numerous divergent fundy groups, just to keep Dems out of power. The elephants in this race have differentiated themselves too clearly. Someone acceptable to one group will be an abomination to another.

Short some dramatic development, we look headed for a Black or maybe a woman President. In the long run, that can only limit the flow from the bigot spigot. There's nothing like experience and peer pressure to help society evolve. I've been in Southern restaurants and parks hearing plain folk chide their peers who use the N word or other such terms. That's what marks societal change. Electing either Dem leader would speed that key process.

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1 comment:

Ryan said...

The press coverage/punditry on Hillary's weak-in-the-voice moment yesterday was atrocious. They turned what was a great, genuine moment from Hillary into a 'see - women really are too weak to be POTUS' moment. It was disgraceful.

Even one of my media favorites, Keith Olberman, got in the action last night.

I don't support Hillary's vision for America, at least over what John Edwards brings to the table, but she wouldn't be a 'weak' president.

So I guess this is all a very long way of saying that maybe, as a whole, our country has become more accepting of electing a minority to POTUS than a woman. I'd say most of that blame lies on the fact that the punditry thinks being "macho" is synonymous with being "presidential."