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Politics and prejudice


Fri, Sep 19th, 2008
Posted in Commentary

After watching the Democratic and Republican conventions, I realized that the word impartial does not apply to me. I watched the Democrats with what I hoped was a critical eye and liked what I heard and saw. I watched the Republicans with an attempt to be fair and objective and disliked much of what I heard and saw.

Obama's choice of Joe Biden as a running mate should reassure voters who have worried about his level of experience. McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate has raised enthusiasm among social conservatives. In their speeches, both running mates were articulate and appeared confident. I found nothing distasteful in Biden's speech. When Palin trivialized the good work Obama did as a community organizer in South Chicago, I had to turn off the TV.

When Hillary Clinton came onstage, I found the extensive applause pleasing. When Sarah Palin came onstage, I found the wild applause inordinate. Bill Clinton's speech reminded me what it was like to have an intelligent president. Laura Bush and Cindy McCain did their best to enliven the delegates on the first night of the Republican convention, while the country's focus was on Hurricane Gustav. On the second night, President Bush's televised speech was appropriately modest. Michelle Obama graciously introduced herself and her husband to the Democratic delegates and the nation. Fred Thompson's speech was boring. Obama's speech had the right measure of generalities and specifics while McCain gave few specifics.

McCain seems full of contradictions. He advocates change and reform in Washington, yet he has voted with George Bush 90 percent of the time. One theme of his campaign is that his experience would make him a good president while Obama's lack of experience means he isn't ready for the presidency. Then he chooses a young, inexperienced woman as a running mate, who could possibly become president. McCain is indeed a war hero, but his concern for veterans isn't as great as he would have us believe; he has voted for veterans only 20 percent of the time in contrast to Obama's 80 percent. I am happy to see an increasing number of blacks and women in politics. I wonder, though, how much racism and sexism affect their careers. The press, I think, mistreated Hillary, in part, because she is a female. Reporters questioned the honesty of an emotional moment she had and their constant calls for her to quit the race were unfair considering the number of her supporters. In recognition of her power, John McCain chose a female running mate in hopes that she would draw some of Hillary's disgruntled supporters to vote Republican. Sarah Palin faces questions about her ability to govern while raising five children, questions that wouldn't be asked of a man.

Barack Obama, who grew up with his white mother and white grandparents, is identified as black. In high school, his friends were mostly black. His work in South Chicago was primarily with black people and their churches. He married a black woman. In this country, no matter how white your background is, if any of your features look black, you are black.

Racism can be extremely subtle and I sometimes accuse myself of having racist thoughts, even toward my own grandchildren, two little boys who look black enough so that I cannot recognize my daughter in them. A daycare teacher said one of the boys was disruptive and suggested sending him to a psychiatrist. When Martha and her husband visited his school and observed Sam (who couldn't see them) several times they saw no disruptive behavior. Sam was the only black child in his school. Martha had to wonder if his teacher was being racist. This incident made me realize that racism is something black people, or those related to them, always have to suspect, whether or not it exists. As a woman, I know how subtle sexism can be. I suspect it when it doesn't even occur to my husband. Because of my grandchildren, I understand the subtleties of racism better than I once did and I admire people who are able to rise above these prejudices, people like Barack Obama who has lived in two worlds, is comfortable in each one and is having some success in bringing those worlds together.

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