Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Geraldine Ferraro- oh dear

A few weeks ago I saw Geraldine Ferraro on one of the morning news shows in America. It was surprising, given that she is a former Vice Presidential candidate, just how inarticulate and fairly unsophisticated she was. Well, that club also includes Dan Quayle, Vice Admiral James Stockdale, and Spiro Agnew so it's not necessarily a particularly select club. But it is a club that has also contained Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Lyndon Johnson so can't be all bad...

Now, Ms Ferraro has attributed Senator Obama's success to the fact that he is black (go figure...!!!) and Senator Clinton's difficulty to the fact that she is a woman. The mistake that Ms Ferraro makes in her comments is precisely the mistake that Trevor Phillips made a couple of weeks ago. That is, to view events in the primaries almost exclusively through the prism of race. Ms Ferraro's assertion that Barack Obama's success is because he is black is plainly absurd and deeply offensive. There is a viewpoint on the left of politics (it has a mirror image on the right of politics that is quite differently motivated) that sectionalises people then takes that as a starting point for political, economic and social analysis. And it is highly dangerous mode of interpretation. Not only is it almost always inaccurate but it is deeply divisive. Interestingly, Ms Ferraro seeks to justify her racial analysis by genderising her own success. The same flawed thinking underpins both no matter how paradoxically you choose to argue your case.

In the case of Barack Obama his race is of course part of his identity and people respond to that in different ways. There is no doubt that an exceptional black candidate has an appeal in the African American community. But the key word in the previous sentence was not 'black.' It was 'exceptional.' A small minority across all groups will vote on racial grounds. But this does not go anywhere near to explaining the success of Barack Obama. He is successful because he has proved to be a highly convincing candidate backed up by an incredibly well-organised campaign.

I doubt that 'race' or 'gender' are particularly useful explanatory variables for the performance of either Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, or John McCain for the matter. They are marginal at best. This is not to say that there is no racial or gender consciousness- one only has to look at exit polls to see that there is (see the polls from Mississippi last night by way of example.) Or that there is no racism (we've seen examples of that...) or sexism (we've seen examples of that too...) It's just that these things are in the mix with so many other factors that to single them out is a very dangerous and divisive game to play.

So bad show Ms Ferraro and bad show Ms Clinton for your pathetic response. To say that it is, "regrettable that any of our supporters on both sides....say things that kind of veer off into the personal," is either to deliberately misunderstand the nature of Ms Ferraro's comments or completely misinterpret them.

Why can't you just be straight? The quote should read: "I completely disassociate myself from comments of this nature. No-one in or connected with my campaign should be under any illusion that this type of flawed and, in all probability, offensive analysis shall be in any way sanctioned or tolerated by my campaign. I will be vigilant but let's not dwell on this any longer and move on so that we can get back to deciding who will be the best Democratic nominee and future President of the United States......on nothing but merit." There, that's not so difficult is it?

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