2008 Democratic Presidential Primary -- Research Paper
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Meanwhile in the journal Du Bois Review (Parker, et al., 2009, p. 194) the authors point to racism and patriotism as key themes for the 2008 Democratic primary election. "Race was a consistent narrative" used by those opposed to Obama, Parker explains (p. 194). Both Clinton and the Republicans "used racial references" to attack Obama, including the attacks on Obama "for his perceived inability to connect to 'real working Americans'" (p. 194).
The Republican sideshow called "Joe the plumber" attacked Obama with the charge that Obama was "seeking to take money from hardworking 'real Americans' to give it to 'those people'" (p. 194). Clinton questioned Obama's patriotism suggesting that he was not a "real" American. Parker notes that when Governor Dukakis ran for president as a Democrat, he was attacked but no one questioned whether he was "a real American as they did with Obama" (p. 195).
The authors present two faces of racism that Obama had to deal with, "symbolic racism" and "laissez-faire racism." But Parker claims in the article that there is another approach to racism and it is one "that connects national pride to racial antipathy: patriotism" (p. 196). Symbolic racism is the feeling among some white citizens that blacks are inferior, and hence to them Obama represented the violation of "cherished U.S. values…unwillingness to work, lack of thrift, criminality, and welfare" (p. 196). As to Laissez-faire racism, the authors explain that in this aspect of racism the attention shifts from the individual black man to the "group"; blacks are simply not qualified to have the same resources as whites and moreover whites "blame blacks" for many of the social ills in America. Whites "ascribe negative stereotypes to blacks" and hence Obama, as president, would pose a "threat to whites' group position -- both materially and in terms of social status" (p. 196).
The way in which patriotism links with racism, Parker explains, is that whites believe they are "prototypical Americans" and hence as a means of "perpetuating domination" they appropriate symbols of the U.S. (the flag and the Constitution) (p. 197). The "Social Dominance Theory" posits that patriotism, and the symbols that are associated with patriotism "are commensurate with negative feelings toward the subordinate group" (p. 197). More simply put, whites will in some way reject Obama because "love of country…implies the endorsement of [the country's] hierarchical ethos, at least among dominant groups" (p. 197). And beyond obvious racism issues, on page 210 the authors suggest that mitigating against Obama's candidacy was the fact that he spent part of his life in Indonesia. That part of his life spurred some "to see him as a foreigner, compounding the effect of symbolic racism" -- and whites tend to "reject perceived foreigners" (p. 210). Perhaps white-collar whites would have "embraced the historical nature of his candidacy" if Obama had more of a "traditional" African-American background -- someone with "more organic ties to the black struggle" (p. 210).
In the conclusion of Parker's article the authors assert that "The evidence clearly shows we have not moved on to a post-racial era" as a close analysis shows both race and racism played "critical roles" in the campaign (p. 211). Part of the racism that the authors alluded to that took on an additional role in the campaign was the accusation that Obama was a Muslim; after all, his father embraced Islam and Obama's middle name was "Hussein." On page 272 of Wolffe's book the author writes that although Obama showed great confidence in his understanding of foreign affairs, he "lacked the fear to cower from the personal smears." Indeed, Obama "pushed back against rumors he was a Muslim, "but he never tried to counter the bigger smears against Muslim Americans" (Wolffe, p. 272). In fact Obama didn't have the credentials or the political strength to respond to hateful rhetoric that was used against him in the campaign (not by the Clinton campaign or by McCain's campaign).
One political figure that did have the clout to respond to unsubstantiated rumors and blatant attacks against Obama in this regard was Colin Powell. On Meet the Press, Powell "was deeply troubled by Republicans suggesting that Obama was a Muslim," Wolffe wrote. He quoted Powell's remarks from that session of Meet the Press:
"Well, the correct answer is, he is not
Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim American kid believing that he or she could be president" (Wolffe, p. 272). Powell added that he had heard "senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, 'He's a Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists' -- This is not the way we should be doing it in America" (p. 272).
Gender bias also played a role in the 2008 Democratic Primary
Author / professor Jennifer L. Lawless writes in the journal Politics & Gender that Hillary Clinton "…operated within, and was forced to respond strategically to, an electoral environment rife with overt bias" (Lawless, 2009, p. 71). The bias that Lawless alludes to includes not just chauvinism but "even misogyny." Lawless notes several incidents of blatant sexism that took place in the primary; in New Hampshire, several days prior to the election (which Clinton won, keeping her in the race following a shocking defeat to Obama in Iowa), two men chanted "Iron y shirt!" (Lawless, p. 72). Clinton responded, "Ah, the remnants of sexism -- alive and well." The day before the New Hampshire primary Clinton attended a coffee meeting with local woman, and when asked if the rigors and pressures of the campaign ever really got to her, she admitted that it is a rough road out there and she seemed to tear up a bit. Commentator / comedian Bill Maher said, "The first thing a woman does, of course, is cry" (p. 72). MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews used words like "stripteaser" and "witchy" in describing Clinton. Lawless asks readers to "…Think about Tucker Carlson's "assessment of the Hillary Clinton nutcracker: 'That is so perfect. I have often said, when she comes on television, I involuntarily cross my legs'" (Lawless, p. 72).
That having been said, Lawless insists that "…being female did not cost her the nomination" (p. 73) and "sexism did not effect the outcome of the race" albeit bias "did provide an additional hurdle with which Clinton, because she was a woman, had to grapple." In the same sense Obama had to grapple with rumors that he was Muslim, or that he wasn't born in the United States, or that he wasn't patriotic, Clinton had to develop a strategy to deal with the bias that frequently exists when women run for office. On page 74 Lawless references a Pew Research Center poll that was taken right after Obama clinched the nomination; this poll attempted to account for the fact that women have not moved into "high level" elective positions in the U.S.
Indeed the Pew poll revealed that 51% of respondents believe Americans are not yet ready "to elect a woman to high office" (p. 74). Beyond that question, 40% of those polled indicated that "women are discriminated against in all realms of society, including politics," Lawless explained. Another poll, one by Lake Research/Lifetime Television, showed that 40% of women "do not think Hillary Clinton was treated fairly in her campaign" (p. 74). As to the question of whether women and men "face an equal chance of being elected to high-level office," only 13% of women agreed with that and 24% of men agreed; and 64% of women agreed that it is "…harder for a woman to raise money for a campaign than a man" while 38% of men agreed with that in the Pew poll (p. 75).
Another dynamic in the gender discussion vis-a-vis the 2008 Democratic Primary is that fact that there was an "expectation that women should vote for women," Lawless writes on page 76). "In many cases, women feel better about government when more women are included in positions of political power," Lawless goes on. When "prominent women did not support Hillary Clinton, the onus was on them either to explain or to apologize for their 'deviation'" (Lawless, p. 76). U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill said she supported Obama but felt "significant guilt" for that endorsement (p. 76):
"I think it's hard for women. We all care very much about gender equality, and so it's easy to kind of gravitate over to gender preference…Hillary Clinton is a strong, smart woman. She is…she would be a terrific president…I have got a lot of my supporters and friends that…
Sources Used in Documents:
Alter, Jonathan. "Leading Democrats to Bill Clinton: Pipe Down." Newsweek. (2008).
Retrieved March 17, 2010, from http://www.newsweek.com.
Balz, Dan, and Johnson, Hanes. The Battle for American 2008: The Story of an Extraordinary
Election. New York: Viking, 2009.
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