Saturday, June 7, 2008

Sex and Race in American Politics: Post Mortem on Hillary vs Obama

I should probably let sleeping dogs lie on the day Hillary is (finally) graciously conceding and supporting Obama for president. However, I am bothered by the ongoing whining by embittered Hillary supporters who declare that they are "not willing to shake hands" and claim that Hillary lost due to sexism in the media and the public at large, as well as some blog commentaries. I do think Hillary faced sexism and much of the liberal media supported Obama over her, with Matthews and Shuster on MSNBC making unacceptable remarks. It is also true that sexist remarks have been made in the blogosphere about Hillary. However, I think that Obama beat her because of people being for him, with those against her more due to her link with Bill Clinton and the scandals of his administration than her gender. Some may say blaming her for her husband's problems is sexist, but I do not buy that as he would certainly have been around big time if she had become president, and she began with high negatives (over 40%) widely reported to be due mostly to that connection. I happen to know a couple of politically independent (white) women here in Harrisonburg who supported nobody, but were very anti-Hillary on those grounds.

More fundamentally, those making this sexism argument somehow do not notice that Obama faced a racism hurdle. It looks to me that the racism against Obama was a much more serious electoral hurdle than the sexism against Hillary. For one thing, there are more women than men, and a lot more white women than African-Americans, and we know that Hillary got lots of votes from women supporting her, even if there were some men voting against her on sexist grounds. I see several things here that show it. One is the behavior of the candidates themselves. The only thing I am aware of that Obama was accused of being sexist for doing was holding a chair for Hillary during a debate. She, however, bragged late in the campaign of her appeal to "white voters." Obama supporters in Pennsylvania were beaten up by people calling them "N..... lovers," I am unaware of anything comparable happening to Hillary supporters.

Finally, there is a bottom line, the voting behavior of two groups, especially in the later stages of the campaign: white men and African-American women. White men increasingly supported Hillary over Obama; African American women increasingly went the other way. That last one is the real key, as they are the group that experiences both sexism and racism. Their support for Obama pretty much says which has been more salient in US politics recently, a country that fought its bloodiest war over the slavery of African-descended people.

3 comments: said...

Just for the record, and since Barack Obama asked, I shall join others in saying "Thank you, Hillary." While I have had (and continue to have) some serious disagreements with her, she is clearly very capable and intelligent. I also think that her campaign has helped the status of women in America, even though she did not win.


Anonymous said...

What I find most striking about the campaign is that Clinton and Obama both handily defeated six white men, some of whom had far more experience in public office than either of them and had won partisan elections under far more difficult circumstances than either of them ever faced. That both Clinton and Obama supporters are so blase about this achievement that they don't even mention it in their post mortems seems to me to speak volumes about the changes in the status of women and Black candidates in US political life.

Anonymous said...

You're right, I'm wrong.