Hispanic Institute and Common Good Panel Tackles Race and Gender in the Campaign

By Rinku Sen Aug 27, 2008

Yesterday I went to a panel on “The Culture Wars: the role of Race, Gender, Ethnicity, Religion and values in the Fall Campaign.” Dan Abrams of MSNBC’s Verdict moderated, and did quite a good job, and the line up included former Planned Parenthood President Faye Wattleton, Dee Dee Myers, Harold Ford Jr., Senator Amy Klobushar (D-MN), Markos Moulitsas, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Governor Bill Richardson, and the always obnoxious Tucker Carlson. Initially, there was a lot of self-congratulatory talk about Obama’s campaign closing the book on race and gender (Richardson, Ford, Klobushar) and then some push back. Carlson said this would happen only if Obama says he will end the fundamental unfairness of affirmative action – this is the same guy who called Hillary Clinton a ball buster on primetime TV. Myers said that despite the fact that young people don’t see race and culture (actually, they see it but don’t let it hold them up), Obama would still have to win among old white voters in the northeast and Midwest, and Biden’s job was to help him do that. It’s more likely that white voters with racial hang-ups will hold their noses and vote on other issues. Newsweek editor, Jon Meacham, told of polls designed to find the most racist people who will identify, and even among them Obama was way ahead of McCain. Of course, the overall polling numbers have the two in a dead heat . Abrams asserted that “values” would be the next racial code word. The conversation turned to gender and the feelings of Hillary supporters. Maloney, who has a new book out , took on Carlson’s castration comment about Clinton. That was cool. She was honest about the anger (white) women felt in their perception that race trumped gender in the primary – in two great moments, the racial moment was thought more important than the gender moment. I would have liked to see some critical thought applied to that idea, especially when she pulled up yet again the notion that the racial equivalent of the sexist statements about Clinton’s campaign would have had the media up in arms. If I ever again hear “if they had been saying x about blacks….” I may actually lose my mind. The white ladies seem to have missed the use of the middle name, the accusations of secret Muslimhood, and the fist bump business. No marginalized group of people has been exempted from media stereotyping. Because we don’t notice it when we’re not the target, it’s easy to project our jealousy, based on no evidence, of another group’s supposed power to preempt racist crap. It’s going to be hard to build solidarity when you can’t see your allies’ real situation because you envy this perceived power. Progressives should take the words “if this had happened to…” out of their vocabulary. Doing so would help build a political culture and alliances based on reality, rather than on resentment.