Tuesday, March 11, 2008

What If?

The Geraldine Ferraro flap is actually old terrain in this campaign. Responding to the same charge (that Obama wouldn't be where he was today if he wasn't Black), Cass Sunstein rejoined:
I have no idea how Obama would be regarded if he were white. (He might be regarded as this generation's Jack Kennedy; the two have a similar quickness, youth, charisma, and capacity for humor.) But for any successful politician, there are many necessary conditions for their success. Would George W. Bush be president if his last name were not Bush? Would Al Gore have become vice-president if his last name had not been Gore? Would Senator McCain be a serious candidate for the presidency if he had not been held prisoner in Vietnam? Would Bush, Gore, or McCain be where they are today if they were African-American or Hispanic? (What kinds of questions are these?)

This time around, Klein applies the what if machine to Ms. Clinton:
[I]f Hillary Clinton were a black man, it's unlikely that she would have been a national political figure for the past 15 years, as it's unlikely that she would have married another man from Arkansas, and unlikely that the country would have put an interracial, same sex couple in the White House. But so what? This is an election, not Marvel's "What If?" series.

The candidates are who they are. Obama is a fantastic candidate as a Black man. Clinton is a fantastic candidate as a White woman. It's impossible to know where they'd be if their identity axes were differently located. But that's true of all our politicians. We just only seem to care when they're not White men, because those are the "strange" politicians.

Of course, if I believed there was anyway to transubstantiate personality wholesale onto another identity, it would seem more likely that someone from a traditionally politically marginalized group -- Black or female -- would be more likely to become a successful politician if they were a White man, because they'd have all their talent, drive, and ambition, but wouldn't have to deal with dumb questions like this. Maybe we should ask ourselves if every White male candidate is talented enough so they'd still be seen as a contender even if they were a Black woman.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

An important counterpoint is that besides the amount of factors that lead a person to be a contender for president and the impossibility to see what a person would be like if a fundamental piece of their identity were different, is that while at this point being black (and in Hillary's case being Bill's wife) led them to be where they are, at birth (and for most of their lives) with as much else as possible being the same about them would have been more likely to become president in the future if they were white males.