Sunday, February 10, 2008

This Sunday's a new day in Democratic presidential politics

By Carol Gee

Obama sweeps -- Barack Obama's Saturday primary victories made big news headlines that are dominating most of my main news sources. Memeorandum's headline from the The New York Times announced "Obama Gets Convincing Wins in 3 States." To quote from the story:

Senator Barack Obama won decisive victories over Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in Washington, Louisiana and Nebraska on Saturday, giving him an impressive sweep going into a month when the Democratic nominating contests are expected to favor him.

The successes come just as Mr. Obama is building a strong advantage over Mrs. Clinton in raising money, providing important fuel for the nominating contests ahead. Still, the results were expected to do little to settle the muddle in the delegate race that resulted after the wave of contests last Tuesday in which the two candidates split up states from coast to coast.

The Democratic primary season feels very new and different as it is now playing out; it is unprecedented. And so the discourse should be new and different. This year everybody is breaking new ground. And the way voters are deciding is also unusual. What we are doing is a seemingly impossible combination of voting purely for the person or purely out of one of the various demographic groups. It would not seem likely for thoughtful people to be doing both but that is what is happening.

We all hope to avoid gender or racial bias. So far, the success rate has not been perfect on either front. Each prejudiced breach is hurtful to those of us who happen to be female or African American, or both. The most interesting issue lurking beneath the surface at this point is more gender, than race related, in my opinion. For example, Memeorandum picked up this article in The Washington Post that "Women Could Give Clinton the Edge in the Maine Caucuses." To quote:

It is women like Linda Sinclair who have turned New England into a potentially tough playing field for Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.).

. . . "She's really in touch with the common person, even though she's not one," Sinclair, 58, said of Clinton. "I think they're both very bright. But she's more solid. I think he's fluffy."

Translated into gender stereotypical language, "solid" sounds Male (Freudian non-hysterical female) and "fluffy" sounds Female (soft, lacking in substance). What this says to me is that presidents are Male. And yet the opposite traits seem to be actually embodied in the candidates.

The opposite kind of stereotypical description came out of an Australian female correspondent's story about the two speeches given in Virginia last night. It carried this provocative headline: "Clinton sells dream as Obama hits warpath," in The Sydney Morning Herald. This language of attribution also sounds fraught with gender imagery - in the opposite direction. This writer attributes Clinton's coming potential for a poor showing in Virginia to "dreaminess," and Obama's potential strong showing to "demolishing" his opponent. To quote:

For the first time, Senator Clinton decided to try to out-Obama Senator Obama. She delivered an inspiring speech.

Senator Clinton went for the big picture, which until now has been strangely absent from her earnest, policy-laden speeches. And for once she played up her unique point of difference: she would be America's first woman president. She dwelt on the fight of the suffragettes, who from the start of their activism at Seneca Falls in New York in 1848 waited 70 years to win the vote. "Only one of them lived long enough to see their dream realised," she said. "Come join me, be part of my campaign. Make history."

. . . Senator Obama then did the demolition job of the night. Senator Clinton, so anxious to avoid the criticism of a fortnight ago that her husband Bill Clinton had been too strident in his attacks, treated Senator Obama with kid gloves. Senator Obama had no such compunction.

He hit her voting record on the war and on being a candidate who has taken more money from lobbyists than even John McCain. He mentioned the last six "match-up" polls that show him more likely to beat Senator McCain.

"Now Hillary and I were friends before this campaign, and we will be friends after," he said. Really? The Democratic race is now a bitter struggle for delegates, and it will not end until March or April. Meanwhile, Senator Obama will move ahead in the delegate count and gain that most valuable of political ingredients: momentum.

The magnificent opportunity that the American people have in 2008 is to step beyond prejudice, bias, and stereotypical generalization, in choosing the best presidential candidates. People acting in good faith want to do the right thing as we choose a new administration. I quote now a third article about the Democratic race. And I think it is an absolutely great example of pretty unbiased and interesting writing. It is an OpEd for the Hartford Courant, by Bill Curry. I highly recommend reading it. It is not terribly long. It is headlined, "Obama's Three Advantages: Map, Money And Message." To quote just a few great lines:

Hillary Clinton amazes me... Her resilience makes husband Bill look like just another glass-jawed palooka.

. . . Living off the land means grass-roots organizing and small-donor fundraising, but most of all it means ideas. Barack Obama is handsome, articulate and whip smart. But he didn't start winning until he began making his case... His may be the first campaign based on subliminal negatives... It makes Barack's successful covert attacks all the more dazzling, even mystifying. The Clintons were not only flat-footed but tin-eared and ham-handed.

. . . The good news for Clinton is that she's right in the race. The good news for Democrats is that she and Obama are both candidates of exceptional, even extraordinary ability. She must now make the case that some of the Clinton legacy is worth building on. Her best chance lies in a purely positive campaign in which both candidates tell us what they really think, and not just about each other.

[Bill Curry, former counselor to President Bill Clinton, was the Democratic nominee for governor twice].

For my readers the question of potential presidential leadership qualities is central. It recurs as visitors return over and over to read my post on Leadership Qualities. As I said in a more recent post, "Democrats have a Delicious Dilemma".

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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