Barack Obama is “lucky to be black”, Gerraldine Ferraro notoriously claimed:
If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position.
Ferraro’s pro-Clinton bias aside, this is an interesting question. I think we can safely assume that there’s some reluctance to vote for a black candidate; likewise, that there’s some reluctance to vote for a female candidate. So is it a worse disadvantage to be black, or to be a woman?
Let’s consider some data about the impact of racism on Obama’s candidacy. Here’s a table adapted from Steven Waldman at beliefnet.com:
|white voters who said race was important||margin of victory or defeat|
|North Carolina||8%||Obama +14|
|West Virginia||21%||Obama -41|
There’s a clear correlation, as Waldman observes: “The more white voters who think the candidate’s race matters, the better Clinton does.” Correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation, but the data are nonetheless suggestive.
Then there’s the anecdotal evidence. For example, this video from al Jazeera (who knew that al Jazeera had English features?) :
Or this anecdote from George Packer:
I spoke with half a dozen men eating lunch at the Pigeon Roost Dairy Bar outside town [ Inez, Kentucky ]. … They announced their refusal to vote for a black man, without hesitation or apology. “He’s a Muslim, isn’t he?” an aging mine electrician asked. “I won’t vote for a colored man. He’ll put too many coloreds in jobs. Coloreds are O.K.—they’ve done well, good for them, look where they came from. But radical coloreds, no—like that Farrakhan, or that senator from New York, Rangel. There’d be riots in the streets, like the sixties.” … Here was one part of the white working class — maybe not representative, but at least significant.
Coloreds?! That expression turns the clock back about 50 years, don’t it?
What about the other scenario? How has sexism impacted the Clinton campaign?
A Clinton supporter itemizes the sexist slurs directed at Clinton in this campaign. She mentions, among other things:
- T-shirts that bear the slogan “Bros before Hos”, with images of Obama and Clinton.
- the Hillary Nutcracker — a Clinton figure that cracks nuts between its legs.
- Citizens United Not Timid (note the acronym) — an anti-Clinton group founded by a Republican guru.
- Mike Barnicle (MSNBC) claiming that Clinton looks “like everyone’s first wife standing outside a probate court”.
- Jack Cafferty (CNN) comparing Clinton to “a scolding mother, talking down to a child”.
There are more items, but that’s enough to make the point.
Gratuitous smears from the like of magician Penn Jillette are bad enough. But presumably the slurs are more damaging when they come from a major TV personality like Jack Cafferty.
Still … where are the stats showing that 10% or 20% of the voters in a given state will vote for a man — any man, regardless of colour — rather than a woman?
Votes, not insults, are what count. Obama ran up large margins in caucus states where he out-campaigned Clinton. Clinton has just run up large margins in two states (West Virginia and Kentucky) on the back of racism. Arguably, she made a tacit appeal for the racist vote in advance of the West Virginia primary: “Sen. Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again.”
Meanwhile, Clinton claims victim status:
“It’s been deeply offensive to millions of women,” Clinton said. “I believe this campaign has been a groundbreaker in a lot of ways. But it certainly has been challenging given some of the attitudes in the press, and I regret that, because I think it’s been really not worthy of the seriousness of the campaign and the historical nature of the two candidacies we have here.”
Later, when asked if she thinks this campaign has been racist, she says she does not. And she circles back to the sexism. (emphasis added)
Clinton’s remarks are partly justified. But her refusal to acknowledge that Obama has been the victim of racism — that’s just sad.