Sunday, January 20, 2008

Are You Ready?

With Obama and Clinton fighting for the lead in the Democratic contest, Mark Morford, the columnist from the San Francisco Gate, ponders the question whether the country is ready for the first black or woman president. In The woman vs. the black guy, "Who's more terrifying to red states, smart Hillary or savvy Barack? The nation trembles," Morford inquires:

It's the question everyone seems to want to address, the imponderable and frightening and slightly insane sociopolitical phenomenon that's happening right now to such a degree that even the left is falling all over itself trying to digest and parse and comprehend it all at once, and simply can't.

It is this: Just how the hell did it come to pass and which planets finally aligned and what sort of Kool-Aid has been gulped by the universe that the two white-hot Dem frontrunners, the two brightest lights on the political spectrum for the 2008 presidential election also just so happen to be members of the two most controversial/least represented groups in modern uber-white ultra-patriarchal American snake-oil politics — which is to say, a smart, savvy woman and a smart, savvy black male?

It's a stunning thing to watch. Right now, the various spurts of venom aimed at Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama from conservative pundits and politicos are, at best, scattershot and convulsive . . . .

As he notes, we're clearly not beyond the racist and sexist attacks (Chris Matthews, are you listening?) -- from within the Democratic party itself, as well as from the Republicans, as was on display over the charges and counter-charges between the Obama and Clinton camps in the past few weeks. See Break Those Chains. Yet, except for the fringe eruptions, have we moved beyond these issues as a country?

This is a subject my husband and I have discussed on several occasions. Optimistic me, I look at the fact that both have surpassed the Southern, liberal white guy, John Edwards, as a sign of our progress. My husband scoffs at me, agreeing with Morford's view:

But I'm most amazed/amused at the one big question that keeps hovering over the media and infiltrating the political blogs — does all this excitement over Hillary and Barack mean the nation is finally ready for a female president? A black president? Have we, at long last, come so far that a guy like John Edwards, an excellent, likable, all-around candidate and a classic populist southern Democrat, actually finishes third?

The answer, I'm afraid, is no, we are not ready. Not by a long shot.

This is the big, astounding myth. See, "ready" would imply we've more or less eliminated the sexism and at least come to terms with the racism, and therefore neither is much of a factor in the slightest. It's a bit like asking if America is finally ready to rid itself of its toxic love of guns and strips malls and numb Christian groupthink. In other words, if you have to ask, we ain't.

However, we do seem to be at this weird flash point, a privileged moment in political history where the anti-Bush recoil has become so potent and the right-wing collapse is so profound and the women/youth vote (at least at the moment) seems so invigorated that it all might coalesce just right and catapult a woman or a black male into the presidency, despite the hardcore misogyny and racism built like a cancer into the framework of this nation. Hey, stranger things have happened.

Look at it this way: Much in the same way Bush whored Sept. 11 to drag the nation to its lowest emotional, fiscal and political point in 100 years, so could the new wave of enraged, inspired voters leverage the Bush nightmare itself to bounce us as far as possible in the other direction. Hell, it could be even weirder than that: Hillary or Obama wins the nomination, chooses the other as running mate. Talk about your perfect liberal storm.

Are we ready for it? Doesn't matter. Quit asking what amounts to a dispiriting, futile question, and let's go find out.

It would be ironic, to say the least, if the one good thing to come out of the failed Bush presidency would be that the Democratic nominee, whether Obama or Clinton, would prevail in the general election, despite the race or sex of the candidate. That the backlash against his disastrous reign would serve as the impetus needed to get us past this barrier.

Of course, once elected, the lunatic fringe of the Republican Party will certainly not go gently into that good night. The level of scrutiny and vicious attacks on every political move would most likely be unrelenting. Despite the fact that both are moderate and would certainly try to govern from the middle as a way to lessen the partisan divide that has prevailed these last 7 years, they may end up creating an even bigger fissure -- not because of their policies, but merely because they are what they are. The only difference is that the attacks directed towards Hillary Clinton would be hateful and sexist, but would not go beyond that. The concern with Barack Obama is that the racist extremists may go further, and feel compelled to launch a physical attack. He'd have to move into that bubble that the Bushies have created, not to maintain secrecy, but security.

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