© 2008, the Institute for Applied Common Sense
Thanks Issac and Caleb for placing comments on our blog, in response to our earlier Post No. 60, “Why I am Concerned that Obama Might Win” (http://theviewfromoutsidemytinywindow.blogspot.com/2008/10/post-no-60-why-i-am-concerned-that.html). You both essentially are of the opinion that the candidate with the best credentials, regardless of gender or race, should be selected. I have chosen to respond to the two of you in the form of a new post.
I agree with you, in theory, that society should want the best person (from an objective perspective) for the job. However, that’s not the way societies do things. There are reasons why neither a woman, nor a black, has ever been elected as President of this country. The reasons go back hundreds of years. There is a substantial segment of the population that feels that no matter the woman or the black, or the Hispanic or Asian for that matter, who might be put forth to occupy that position, they are inherently unqualified and unacceptable.
If one believes that gender and racial attitudes have improved since the 1950s, then an argument can be made that the time for a woman or some other minority has arrived, and our society has evolved. On the other hand, if you believe, as I do, that racial and gender attitudes have not really changed, then one can easily come to the conclusion that America is not ready to have a woman or minority President.
What have changed over time are the visibility of integration, and the comfort level of at least some people to disclose their true feelings. Integration was effectively forced on this nation, first by the Warren Supreme Court when the Congress did not see fit to do so, and later legislatively, but with an extreme amount of reluctance.
There were clearly many bigots during the 1950s, who did not have a problem identifying themselves as such. There were probably just as many folks who were not legitimate, honest bigots, but behaved as such due to peer pressure and socialization factors. (This is the group which I suspect is comfortable having blacks as friends and colleagues today.)
Not only were many merchants, schools, clubs, public accommodations, and other entities forced to accept folks into their world against their will, but later the whole concept of affirmative action further soured the soup. There has been a lot of whispering, and under the breath statements of discomfort, over the past 60 years.
I’m not sure whether racial attitudes can change, as dramatically as we profess, over such a short period of time. Make-up can be applied, and plastic surgery performed, but the basic pragmatic and functional reasons for racism have existed, somewhere on this earth, for thousands of years. (Just think about all of the ethnic cleansing that took place over the past 30 years internationally.)
We previously addressed racism in our Post No. 2, in April 2008, entitled, “Why Racism, Although Problematic, Serves a Pragmatic and Utilitarian Function” (http://theviewfromoutsidemytinywindow.blogspot.com/2008/04/why-racism-although-problematic-serves.html)
I suspect that the expression of prejudicial attitudes and beliefs, and the comfort with which people feel to express them, is significantly dependent on the current economic status of the group affected. I submit that there are transient changes in generational attitudes depending on the economic status of the nation. It is unnecessary, and serves no useful function, to disclose one’s innermost prejudices, if one is doing fairly well. However, as soon as one, or the group of which the person is a member, feels that his interests are being adversely affected, and identifies, rightly or wrongly, another group as a causative factor, then civility and the exercise of self-restraint go right out the window. That we have folks at McCain / Palin rallies calling for Obama’s death should surprise no one during these economic times.
Now, getting back to the performance issue. Just for sake of argument, let’s assume that we could label the state of economic affairs in our country as poor, moderate, or good. If a substantial segment of the electorate feels that women and minorities are incapable of running the country and serving competently, and by whatever combination of forces, the country ended up with a woman or black president, I would just hope that individual would preside during a moderate or good economic period. Then at least the person would have a chance to disabuse the doubters of the inappropriateness of the selection, and the inherent inferiority of that individual’s group.
But when we thrust the first of any group into a situation which many deem perilous, he’ll either be viewed as a hero, should things turn around quickly, or an abysmal failure, should economic conditions continue to deteriorate.
I simply do not think that things are going to turn around sufficiently economically within the next 2 – 3 years, to give Obama a chance to even appear competent. I also believe that no one person, under our system of government, can quickly overcome, as George Will calls it, “the inertia that is Washington.” Furthermore, do you really have reason to believe that a Democratic controlled Congress will do a better job than what has been done over the past 20 years?
This has nothing to do with Obama. It has to do with the economy, and the apparent disinterest on the part of our elected federal officials, to place the interests of the nation, ahead of their personal interests.
I’m afraid that he will be a one term president, and we will not see another woman or minority elected for at least another 100 years thereafter.
We never allowed people to grow, respect, and value others on their own terms. We never allowed the concept of integration, fairness, and equal treatment to creep into the hearts and minds of people and evolve accordingly. Instead, we created awkward and artificial contrivances, and legal fictions, to achieve an admittedly lofty goal. However, we didn’t work on the hearts and minds of the core citizens of America. We just drove the bigots underground, and made unpopular the open expression of their views. (We also made employers financially responsible for discriminationatory acts of their employees which were developed years becoming arriving at that place of employment, as if an employer can really police the heart of an employee.) You couple those attitudes with some religious underpinnings, and nothing has really changed in the past 60 years. Their God supports their view of the world.
On the other hand, those closet liberals / potential race “minglers” who were afraid to disclose their true views during the 1950s, now feel free to do so.
The real question remains, deep down, have we really changed? If one believes that racism is primaily biologically and evolutionarily driven, and not a mere matter of choice, then it's going to take more than 60 years of artifical laws to change the DNA.
© 2008, the Institute for Applied Common Sense