On Hardball today, Chris Mathews asked Tina Brown of the Daily Beast about Hillary Clinton’s possible 2016 run. In trying to make the point that Clinton might look like a shoo-in right now, but things can change, Brown presented an often-repeated inaccurate construct. Brown suggested that in 2008, when it looked like Clinton had it, “Being the first black president in the end got more traction than being the first woman president.”
Tina Brown, via transcript from MSNBC: “When, you know, four years’ time, who knows what will happen. There’s an enormous ground swell for Hillary Clinton. Whether it can be maintained, don’t forget, the last time it seemed like it was going to be a shoo-in last time. Captured the exceptionalism Hillary had. Being the first black president in the end got more traction than being the first woman president. That was in her sense an unlucky thing to happen if she’s fit and wants to do it, and if everything being as one thinks it will be, yes, it will be a shoo-in. Who knows.”
With all due respect to Ms. Brown (she’s hardly the first or only person to suggest this), this false construct is offensive on many levels. It presumes that voters were deciding between two shiny objects of fascination: a black man versus a white woman. Seeing both politicians relegated to which “minority” was more interesting from a historical perspective is wildly depressing.
Once again, it’s as if the people supporting either candidate had no concept of policy. The media likes to pretend the two were exactly the same save for their exteriors, but that’s absolutely incorrect.
At the time, they differed on one issue that went back many years: Iraq.
Oct. 2. Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama gives speech opposing war in Iraq. He said he did not oppose “all wars,” but he opposed “dumb wars,” and wanted to finish the job against al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden rather than start a new war in Iraq. He predicted that “even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.”
In case the media missed it, Iraq was a BFD for liberals. I’ll admit that I wanted to see Hillary Clinton in the White House, but was concerned about her previous position on Iraq. Coming off the horrifying foreign policy of Bush presidency, I wanted someone who had seen the dangers of invading Iraq based on questionable evidence, questioned of the possibility of not “succeeding” prior to invasion, demanded an exit strategy, and had spoken up about it at the time (fair enough to point out that Obama was not a US Senator at the time, but he was a lonely voice of courage in speaking out – see the Dixie Chicks). It said something vitally important to me about where the candidate might take us in the future, and what process they would use to make these decisions.
In other words, it wasn’t a choice between ovaries and black skin. Many of us do not see things in these terms. Furthermore, both women and men supported Hillary Clinton because of her international advocacy for women (not the same thing as having ovaries; see Sarah Palin), her strength, her convictions, her brilliance, her ability to survive and rise above the Republican attacks during her husband’s two terms, her advocacy for the poor and middle class, and so much more. It was about much more than the fact that she would be the first female president.
No, media, women don’t vote with their ovaries. And black people don’t vote on skin color (sorry, but statistically African Americans support Democrats, whose policies embrace minorities more than the Republican Party). Yes, Obama’s 2008 win was historic due to his race, but for many of his supporters, his race was not the issue. You can bet that if you replaced Barack Obama with Michael Steele (I’ll leave the extremists out of the equation), you would not see the same African American turnout. The media must think women and black people are so stupid they don’t know when they’re getting policy-screwed.
This idea that people supported him because of his race is a favorite of Republicans. It makes them feel better to imagine that people were enamored of the IDEA of a black President rather than enamored with this particular president, who just so happened to be black. 2012 should have taught them otherwise.
I find this construct deeply offensive because it breaks everything down to externals. Yes, Obama as the first black president is historic, but guess what, this President was and is the right president for the times because of who he is, not what color he is.
The voters rewarded him for his leadership style and character in 2012. History was made because voters did not vote for skin color, they voted for his character. The historical achievement is that the voters did not CARE about his skin color.
Obama didn’t win because he’s black; rather, he had to fight to overcome prejudice, just as Hillary Clinton has had to do her entire career. Maybe the media can get over it someday. It’s not about her ovaries or his skin color. Neither candidate is a gimmick. Both are incredibly powerful candidates on the strength of their merits. They earned it the hard way, and they have the records to prove it.
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