Thursday, January 3, 2008

108. Candidates leave him in a quandary

The Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama race for the Democratic nomination is proving to be an interesting one. Although I have not yet made a decision, and, in general, I am frustrated with the entire process, I think both candidates offer remarkable backgrounds, perspective and appeal.

I have a lot of respect for Hillary, and the quest to be the first female president cannot be easy. She is very intelligent, graduating from Yale Law School and subsequently spent some time leaching law. In addition to a solid academic background, she served twelve years as Arkansas' first lady, before serving eight years in the same role in the White House. She then followed that with her time as a New York senator- the first woman elected to a statewide position in New York. The one thing she is not lacking is political experience.

To run as a female candidate brings forth a number of factors that other male candidates need not consider. Not only does she have to assimilate into the old, white, wealthy male world of American politics, she has to repudiate the common female stereotypes. Thus, her campaign leads a constant battle over her appearance...making her appear to be tough enough to be president, but not too tough as to appear abrasive. And when her appearance grows too tough, she cries, when she seems too soft, she speaks authoritatively.

There are two things that bother me about Hillary. The first is that her last name is Clinton, and if elected, our country will have had successive terms of Bush, Clinton, Bush and Clinton. Already into two decades of American rule, I just do not think it is good for the country to have a limited number of families serving as commander in chief. Granted this is not Hillary's fault, but, nonetheless, it limits the political power of this country. As evident in the second Bush presidency, the relationships that served the first Bush withstand, and there is a lack of political influence from outsiders.

My second criticism is her political-ness. She is well engaged in the political nature of this country. As a friend of mine noted, she is tied to political polls, venturing only as far as is necessary to remain popular. She was burned as first lady, and one might conclude that she learned her lesson. Her attempt to introduce national healthcare, was harshly received, and she was introduced to what happens when you threaten the wealth of the wealthy (insurance companies, etc.). Subsequently, she seems overly cautious in appeasing those who make the largest campaign contributions. Furthermore, it is sometimes difficult to get a straight answer from her. A question is often answered with a diatribe about an only somewhat related topic.

Barack Obama, likewise, is very intelligent, graduating from Columbia University and then Harvard Law School. He also taught law, teaching at the University of Chicago Law School. He is young, well spoken, appealingly sincere, and, of course, black. In his case, the lack of experience is actually refreshing. His membership in the old, white, wealthy male political area is equally compromised, and the hope is that he might not know better in attempting to follow through with political promises.

As the first black candidate that actually has a chance to secure the presidency, he faces the same challenges over race that Hillary experiences over gender. Author Shelby Steele writes poetically on this issue in his book, "A Bound Man." One reviewer notes:

"Steele writes of how Obama is caught between the two classic postures that blacks have always used to make their way in the white American mainstream: bargaining and challenging. Bargainers strike a "bargain" with white America in which they say, I will not rub America's ugly history of racism in your face if you will not hold my race against me. Challengers do the opposite of bargainers. They charge whites with inherent racism and then demand that they prove themselves innocent by supporting black-friendly policies like affirmative action and diversity.

Steele maintains that Senator Obama is too constrained by these elaborate politics to find his own true political voice. Obama has the temperament, intelligence, and background -- an interracial family, a sterling education -- to guide America beyond the exhausted racial politics that now prevail. And yet he is a Promethean figure, a bound man."

Furthermore, in addition to Steele's comments, Obama must strike a difficult balance, where to white America, he is not simply a "black candidate" and to black America, he is not regarded as a "sellout" or "Uncle Tom." Racism is still an issue, exemplified about once a week in the chain emails I receive which are quick to note black stereotypes and to question his American allegiance- mostly because his middle name is Hussein.

My only concern with Obama is his lack of experience. While the lack of it might be refreshing, there is, unfortunately, a real element to political experience, influence and compromise. It does not provide any benefit to anyone if political change cannot be negotiated politically throughout Congress and with foreign leadership. It might take him some time in developing relationships, working with Republicans and balancing the influence of political money with political favors.

The quest for the Democratic is a dynamic one, in several respects. Despite the in-fighting, and the nature of politics in general, I am enjoying the diversity of candidates seeking America's highest position. The outcome, which should be settled in the near future, will undoubtedly precede an equally interesting presidential race. The Republican candidate, whoever it will be, will be much more in line with our typical presidential candidate- old, white, wealthy and male.

No comments:

Post a Comment