Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Thoughts on the Candidates

A lot has happened in the political realm since I was posting regularly before Christmas. I've been paying close attention to the candidates and there have been a whole lot of instances where my eyebrows were raised. As a person of faith who believes one of the most Christian things politicians can do is support a healthy and respectful pluralistic democracy, it's hard to remain optimistic when this election--as with all elections in recent memory--is filled with plenty of instances of religious pandering and reliance upon dirty tricks in terms of race, class and gender.

I have to admit that since I am the father of two sons who are bi-racial (African-American and Caucasian) Obama's candidacy and win in Iowa are really exciting. I would love it if they grew up never having really known a time when an ethnic minority (including a bi-racial one) was president. Of course, if I had two daughters, I might be feeling something similar about Clinton's candidacy.

Besides those very personal observations, here are a number of articles that I've read over the last month which stood out in my mind as offering powerful critiques of the candidates:

In regards to Mike Huckabee's candidacy, there is quite a bit to be concerned about if you're a Christian who actually uses his/her brain. Do we really want to elect someone for president who doesn't believe in evolution? Do we really want to elect someone for president who believed HIV/AIDS patients should be medically quarantined as late as the early 1990's? But more than anything, I'm bothered by his campaigning in Iowa as a "true Christian leader." The editorial board of The Washington Post offered a biting and I believe dead on critique of Huckabee on this count: Telling voters -- in a political commercial -- that "what really matters is the celebration of the birth of Christ" may speak to the evangelical Christians Mr. Huckabee is counting on in Iowa; it sends a different and exclusionary message to non-Christian Americans.

In 1998, Mr. Huckabee spoke of the need to "take this nation back for Christ," though he told Tim Russert this year, "I'd probably phrase it a little differently today." Would he? An earlier Huckabee ad in Iowa opened with the words "Christian leader" emblazoned on the screen. It's disappointing that Mr. Huckabee has responded so dismissively to the criticism the ad has generated. "I mean, it's just beyond ridiculous," he told NBC's "Today" on Wednesday. "You can't even say 'Merry Christmas' without people getting all sensitive about it." And, "I totally am amazed that people are so sensitive these days."

It's Mr. Huckabee's choice how he wants to run for president. But if he wants to convey a desire to be president of all Americans, he's going about it the wrong way.
There were many explanations offered and hypotheses floated as to why the polling on the Democratic primary in New Hampshire was so different from how things ended up, but the best explanation I read was that of Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, who believes that it has to do with race and class. Low-income people tend to avoid answering polls and Clinton got the low-income Democratic vote in NH. Kohut goes further to claim that lower-income and less-educated whites also tend to have more negative views of African Americans: Why didn’t this problem come up in Iowa? My guess is that Mr. Obama may have posed less of a threat to white voters in Iowa because he wasn’t yet the front-runner. Caucuses are also plainly different from primaries.

In New Hampshire, the ballots are still warm, so it’s hard to pinpoint the exact cause for the primary poll flop. But given the dearth of obvious explanations, serious consideration has to be given to the difficulties that race and class present to survey methodology.

Kohut's comment about the differences between caucuses and primaries has to do with the fact that primaries offer secret ballot while caucuses require people to state publicly whom they will vote for--in other words, when whites can vote anonymously they are probably more negative towards candidates of color. DEPRESSING!

So, race and class are players in this election in a very disheartening sense, lest negative views of women be left out, here's a good op-ed from today's NY Times by Bob Herbert. He notes that if anybody thinks gender is a new issue for presidential races hasn't been paying attention. The exploitation of women exists at every level of society, and no matter the gender of the candidate, it's time our nation starts to work on improving the quality of life of women in America: We’ve become so used to the disrespectful, degrading, contemptuous and even violent treatment of women that we hardly notice it. Staggering amounts of violence are unleashed against women and girls every day. Fashionable ads in mainstream publications play off of that violence, exploiting themes of death and dismemberment, female submissiveness and child pornography.

If we’ve opened the door to the issue of sexism in the presidential campaign, then let’s have at it. It’s a big and important issue that deserves much more than lip service.

Another op-ed in the NY Times from a few days ago took a different tack on gender in the election. Lorrie Moore--writing from a third wave feminist perspective, I guess (is there a fourth wave yet?)--argues that there are plenty of female role models in politics and those who really need a role model now are young males of color: Perfect historical timing has always been something of a magic trick — finite and swift. The train moves out of the station. The time to capture the imagination of middle-class white girls, the group Hillary Clinton represents, was long ago. Such girls have now managed on their own (given that in this economy only the rich are doing well). They have their teachers and many other professionals to admire, as well as a fierce 67-year-old babe as speaker of the House, several governors and a Supreme Court justice. The landscape is not bare.

Boys are faring worse — and the time for symbols and leaders they can connect with beneficially should be now and should be theirs. Hillary Clinton’s gender does not rescue society from that — instead she serves as a kind of nostalgia for a time when it might have. Only her policies are what matter now...

Race, class, gender and religious tolerance. How come the candidates aren't talking about the real problems we're facing?

Grace and peace,


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