A Ku Indeed!

Obama vs Clinton: Whose History Is It?

Posted in Politics by Chris on February 5, 2008

abc_obama_clinton_070615_ms.jpgMy wife and I went to cast our primary votes today and had a conversation along the way about Obama and Clinton. She wanted to know which candidate America was more ready to endorse as President: a white woman or a black male. It’s an interesting question. Some say “both” as if it’s not even a question, but if you believe that I have a pay-pal account set up if you’d like to buy the Brooklyn Bridge from me (cheap, too).

I think that the answer to this question (one way or the other) says a lot about the sorts of barriers that we still have to overcome in this country, but it also says something more interesting about how those different historical battles (rights and equality of women and blacks with white males) stack up alongside one another at this particular time in history.

What do you think? For the record: both of us thought the country was far more ready for a black male to be president than a white woman.


19 Responses

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  1. eyeingtenure said, on February 5, 2008 at 6:22 pm

    That it’s that black man versus that white woman doesn’t make the argument easier.

    I believe that race trumps gender, at least in the parts of the country where these demographics matter most. That is, race works against you more than gender would.

    The defense: Consider how black women voted in South Carolina. That would be 82 percent for Obama — the same margin as among men.

    Race matters more to more people.

  2. Mark said, on February 5, 2008 at 7:52 pm

    I’m more inclined to think that a white woman would get the vote more easily than a black man. Just thinking historically, women got the right to vote long before black people did. Also, my sociology class taught me that when applying for a job, being black (male or female) gives you about the same chances of getting the job as being a white ex-convict. In that regard, I think people are more willing to vote for a white woman than a black man. The problem is that it isn’t just a white woman vs. a black man. It’s Clinton vs. Obama, each bringing specific character traits to the table that are gonna mirk things up a bit. We’ll see.

  3. Lindsey said, on February 5, 2008 at 10:47 pm

    Oh Mark and I are never going to agree on this thing…

    I think this country is much more likely to vote for a man over a woman, regardless of race. Many “man on the street” opinions I’ve heard start with something to the effect of “Well a woman just can’t handle situations as well as a man can. She’d be too soft.” Hillary’s sort of in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation when it comes to showing her softer side and I feel bad for her.

    Personally I feel so torn that no matter who gets the Dem. nod, when it comes to the actual election I might just vote for Ron Paul. And if you’ll buy that, I’ve got some ocean-front property in Arizona that I’m willing to trade for the Brooklyn bridge. 🙂

  4. Swad said, on February 5, 2008 at 11:51 pm

    I’m gonna go with “more likely to elect a black male” here. I think much of it has to do with the candidates themselves, but as it stands I think women are unfairly weighed down by social expectations and assumptions. See, for instance, the discussions of what Hillary wears and the commentary over the (two?) times she’s cried.

    To make the playing field of our little TE more equal, let’s envision Obama vs a young woman his same age with very little policy experience but a lot of charisma. Basically, a white female version of him. Would she have a chance? Doubtful.

  5. eyeingtenure said, on February 6, 2008 at 12:10 am

    I wouldn’t mind out-of-hand a female candidate’s emotional moments, though that’s hardly a prejudice in the high-stakes game of political campaigning — look what happened to Muskie, after all.

    I mind that it’s Hillary Clinton doing it. There’s nothing she does that I trust is spontaneous, especially on the campaign trail.

    I maintain that it’s a Hillary Clinton issue, not a female candidate issue.

  6. eyeingtenure said, on February 6, 2008 at 12:12 am

    For even more discussion of the issue, check out an op-ed from The New York Times.

  7. Amy said, on February 6, 2008 at 7:35 am

    Which is America more ready for? Well, look to TV and movies. The black male president has become fairly common there, but I can’t bring to mind a movie or TV show that has used a female U.S. president. This despite the fact that there are more white women in America than black men.

    Clinton herself, however, is perceived as “presidential,” so I don’t think this is a major problem for her.

  8. Swad said, on February 6, 2008 at 9:15 am

    I’m generally skeptical when it comes to anything spontaneous that politicians do – the Clintons and Karl Rove are nothing if not calculating – but I think she was genuinely moved the other day at Yale. I’m not a Hillary fan at all, but after watching the video I probably would have done the same as she did.

  9. Million said, on February 6, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    I hate to admit it but despite her politics Hillary scares me. Not because she is ambitious. Er, well not as much. Or because she’s a woman. I’m more scared of what will happen if another Clinton is elected President.

    Now her being elected is not a scarry thing to me per se, but it would garuentee at least 24 years of American History under two respective dynasties. Say what you want about “the most qualified canidates” or “her qualifications” but it’s ignorant to believe Hillary’s ties to the Democratic Party have made her any more qualified than say, Dennis Kucinich. What percentage of the Iowa Caucuses did he get?

    That said, Obama has a great equalizer; lots of personality.

    The problem – I think – with the charachterization of Hillary being a woman is that there are still commonly held perceptions of what a “female” personality is. There are also charachterizations of what a “black” personality is. You can argue all day that one is stronger than the other but the fact is Obama won in the South yesterday. The same South that we were hearing about the “Jenna Six” from a few months ago. I seriously suspect that this hints some of the conceptions we’ve held thus far are no longer true.

    Racism is still around but it’s not the same. Mysoginism is around, but it’s viewed as a societal negative. And as far as the original question? I think it’s not only a woman thing (though I suspect that it’s still a factor).

    I think it’s a Hillary thing.

    Nancy Pelosi is still the Speaker of the House after all. That’s third in line for the Presidancy.

  10. Chris said, on February 6, 2008 at 5:40 pm

    Just a quick comment to Million: mysoginistic impulses may be seen as a social negative, but they don’t stop anyone from being anti-woman in the voting booth, where you are all on your own.

    Also, on Pelosi. Remember, she was elected by San Fransisco citizen, which vies for either the #1 or #2 spot for “most liberal district in the US.” So her being in Congress is no advance for women there. As well, the fact that she’s speaker is important, but more reflects House politics than the sentiment of America. So I don’t know how far I’d push her as the #3 with “accepting of women in power.”

    I often listen to Hannity on the way home from work. He has often made negative comments about Pelosi that are meant to highlight her gender (just as much as he overdid coverage on Hillary’s tear-up). It’s not accident. When commentators play this stuff up, they know what they are doing — they know their audience.

  11. Chris said, on February 6, 2008 at 5:41 pm

    Geez I made a lot of typos in that last post.

  12. Adam said, on February 6, 2008 at 8:43 pm

    I’m not sure I think the question is getting to the heart of the matter yet. The media seems to want to make the primaries about race and gender, but I don’t think people are voting against one or the other based on that. I think the story so far should be that the (Democratic) primary voters seem really able to transcend that debate. I’m, of course, an Obama fan, because I like his package of issues and inspiration. But Obama and Clinton aren’t too far apart on most of the issues and sure enough the delegate count seems to be pretty much split down the center — which you would expect if people are voting on issues. I don’t think it’s too crazy at all to say that Democratic voters are ready to endorse both.

    There’s also a lot of younger/older split going on. I think younger Democratic voters are ready for both. Older voters seem to break more for Clinton, suggesting they’re more willing to endorse a woman. But I honestly think that’s a vote for her longer experience than a vote in fear of a black candidate.

    Of course these are just the Democratic primaries though. Adding in the rest of the voters may make a difference. I would say that, abstracting away from differences, a generic white woman would be endorsed more readily than a generic black man. But I think the US as a whole would more willingly endorse Obama than Clinton. I don’t think Clinton’s being a woman hurts her. A very good chunk of the US is ready for a woman president, they just wish it didn’t have to be Hillary. It’s her particular personality traits that alienate people much more than her womanhood. On the other hand, I think Obama would be hurt a little more because he’s black, but a lot of people would be willing to overlook his race because he’s got just a ton of charisma.

    And all this said, that doesn’t mean that gender is more invisible to the public than race (oddly enough). Actually I think people are much more consciously thinking of Clinton as a woman than they are of Obama as black.

  13. Chris said, on February 6, 2008 at 9:15 pm


    I’m actually not trying to make any claims about this particular race with these folks. It’s a more general question about which, race or gender, do you think least affect the preference of the average American voter.

    Also, it may be true (I don’t know) that these factors don’t affect the average Democratic primary voter. But this is a highly self-selecting bunch. Typically the most liberal of the Democrats show up for primaries. So it’s a pretty biased sample to generalize to the US, I think.

    I do disagree with you on the conclusion, however. First, I think these things do matter (average US voter). Second, I feel strongly that gender is more salient than race in these circumstances. Heck, it’s an older form of discrimination. I think patriarchy trumps racism.

    Also, I do think Clinton being a woman has hurt her actually. Lots of reasons, but one that comes to mind is the fact that I have no doubt she feels that she has to “over compensate” for being a woman in her way of dealing with the public/press. And it has won her a particular description: “bitch.” And, if anything serves as the #1 negative reason why people who hate her end up hating her, it’s that. Would this happen if she was a man? Oh, I doubt it seriously.

    I recall listening to Hannity talk about how “ruthless” she was and how committed she was to winning, as if these were negatives in a politician. I can’t think of many politicians for whom that’s not true. But suddenly, because it’s a woman, it sticks out.

  14. eyeingtenure said, on February 6, 2008 at 10:13 pm

    It occurs to me more and more that this is more of a boomer issue than anyone’s. I don’t see kids at school or my peers in college worry about race or gender like this even in their most personal moments.

    In 30 years time, there will still be bigots, but fewer bigots who have even less influence than they do now. Last I checked, McCain still stomped his GOP rivals, despite conservative punditry.


  15. Million said, on February 7, 2008 at 4:31 pm


    Don’t worry about the typos because I make them all the time. Besides, what is the point of a post online without them? Blend in with the herd, my man!

    To touch on what you said:

    Your point about the voting booth issue is valid. What I was trying to get at – and I did so pathetically – is that mysoginism seems to be much less part of the mainstream now than it once was. Sure mysoginism still exists but it’s like comparing malignant cancer to the same one in remission (my choice of analogy should give you an idea of just how I feel).

    And Pelosi? There is the chance that she got lucky. Maybe this entire election is a statistical anomoly on both sides; race and gender. Then again, we still have a Mormon, a Black man, a woman, and a wishy-washy Vietnam veteran running for President. Compared to past years, at least, I see these as a indicators of change. The funny thing is it’s not just change in the black community, with women’s rights, or with religous freedom either. It’s *appears* to be inclusive.

    Then again, I am white young male and haven’t been waiting my whole life to see things change. I can’t imagine what that must be like. If I were a feminist I woulden’t be willing to take things on surface value either.

  16. Amy said, on February 9, 2008 at 12:01 am

    My feeling is that people’s reluctance to have a woman president is less overt than their reluctance to have a black president. So while there are surely some people who simply don’t want a black person to lead the country, there are many who have a vague feeling that something about Hillary Clinton just isn’t right for a leader and feel this way because she’s a woman, yet they don’t realize it.

    So I wouldn’t call this misogyny, but I’d say it makes it harder for a woman.

  17. Hannah said, on May 15, 2008 at 10:36 am

    15th May 2008

    A black man will be more popular over a middle-aged woman
    when it comes to choosing a president. America is very much a macho dominated society, because men feel emasculated when women have too much intelectual power over them, especially if she does not appeal to them on a physical level. If the woman is not astonishingly attractive and young, then men, especially the young ones, will not be able to relate to her, especially when she is competing against a man to occupy the most powerful position in the world. Men feel deeply threatened and trapped by that perspective because men do not find women attractive or challenging on a purely intelectual basis only.
    Women’s self esteem has to do with how they look physically because men make them feel that way. it is only when they will free themselves of that stranglehold and start relying on their greatest human assests, their strength, intellect and talent over their physical appearance, that they will have the courage to move forwards against all odds. Men want to be in control, and if the woman wanting to be President does not appeal to them on a physical level as well aon an intellectual one, they are more inclined to ignore her as if she were invisible, or alternatively vote for the black man because they think anything is better than her.

  18. Hannah said, on May 15, 2008 at 11:00 am

    15th May 2008

    I agree with Amy that black men are seen more to occupy the office of President of the good old U.S of A in movies and on TV. Oh, there is glamorous, beautiful,and sexy young Goddess Geena Davis in Commander in Chief though, hardly Madeleine Albright or Condoleeza Rice type,although Albright is brilliant, and Senator Clinton is equally brilliant. However I can just hear arrogant men drooling in their soup saying not as hot as Geena Davis though, eh.

  19. Jess said, on May 20, 2008 at 12:52 am

    Interesting discussion here, thank you. I’m not sure of the answer to this one, though there does seem to be much more sexism than racism in this election season. I guess I agree that it’s much more complicated than these two categories, so I dont know if its possible to answer your question with discussing the specific people. Maybe we are more ready to elect a woman than a black man in general, but more ready to elect THIS black man than THIS woman, because of countless other factors.

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