RJN: Race, Gender, the Presidency, and the NY Times
by Richard John Neuhaus
There they all are, all forty-three of them. Their pictures take up the better part of the front page of this Sunday’s "Week in Review" section of the New York Times . Underneath the pictures is the headline of the story by Adam Nagourney, "The Pattern May Change, if . . . " Aha, so there’s a pattern we’re supposed to detect. The Times regularly reminds us that its readership is highly educated, and I like to think that I’m no slouch when it comes to detecting patterns, so I study the pictures carefully.
Pattern, pattern, what’s the pattern? Well, all forty-three were, and one still is, president of the United States. Most are middle-aged or older. The more recent ones are smiling for their picture. But I have the sense I’m not getting the pattern that the Times wants me to get. And then there it is, right before my eyes. Recognizing that even highly educated readers may need some help, the editors put the clue to the pattern under each and every picture: "White Male." Is it really possible? I go back and study the pictures again and, sure enough, every one of them is a person of pallor and every one is a man. There does indeed seem to be a pattern here.
Mr. Nagourney has done his research. It appears to be possible that Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama will be a presidential candidate in 2008. Hillary Clinton, we are informed, is a woman and Barack Obama is a black, therefore "the 2008 campaign may offer voters a novel choice." That is because we have never had a female or black president. But of course, why didn’t I think of that?
Mr. Nagourney writes, "Over the past of the past eight years, in the view of analysts from both parties, the country has shifted markedly on the issue of gender, to the point where they say voters could very well be open to electing a woman in 2008." I don’t know what is meant by the past of the past eight years, although the past eight years are certainly past. No data are given, but it is the "view" of analysts that things have changed "markedly" and voters "could very well be open" to electing Hillary Clinton, who, as we are given to understand, is the only woman likely to run for president in 2008. "View," "could be"¯there is a certain tentativeness in Mr. Nagourney’s reporting, but that is to be expected when you’re working on a groundbreaking story.
We are told that "it is much less certain that an African-American could win a presidential election." It is not certain that a black could win? Does this mean it is certain that a black could not win? Nagourney does not come right out and say so. But he sees big obstacles. For instance, "black Americans are concentrated in about 25 states¯typically blue ones, like New York and California." Since there are fifty states, and most blacks, but by no means all of them, live in half of those states, one wonders if "concentrated" is quite the right word.
Mr. Nagourney talked with the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, who is described as a "civil rights leader," and he says it is now easier for a woman or black to be elected. Geraldine Ferraro, who once ran for the vice presidency, says it would be easier for a woman. "There is a certain amount of racism that exists in the United States¯whether it’s conscious or not, it’s true," says Ms. Ferraro. The problem of unconscious but true racism is compounded by the fact that blacks, unlike women, are a minority. It is different with women. Mr. Nagourney elicited this finding from Ms. Ferraro: "Women are 51 percent of the population." You may want to file that for future reference.
The assumption would seem to be that, as blacks vote for blacks, so women vote for women. But, Mr. Nagourney informs us, 2008 is about more than race and sex, although not much more. "Race and gender are big issues in American politics," he writes, "but they are not the only ones." For instance, there is the question of whether Senator Obama has sufficient experience to be president. Mr. Nagourney relentlessly presses on, consulting yet another political analyst, this time a "senior" political analyst by the name of David A. Bositis.
Mr. Bositis says: "If it’s the right black candidate, I do think there is propensity to elect a black. But it has to be the right black candidate." I understand that the Rev. Al Sharpton is not going to make another run. In any event, it is the expert opinion of Mr. Bositis that only a black candidate who can be elected can be elected.
This, mind you, is the big front-page story in the "Week in Review." Yet there are those who wonder why, for some of us, there "is propensity" to continue reading the Times . Entrenched habit is part of it, plus the pleasure of musing over coffee on the foibles of those who take with such touching seriousness their task of guiding the thought of what we are assured is the more educated segment of the population.
According to Adam Nagourney, if I understand the gist of his story, the 2008 election will be a referendum on whether America is sexist or racist. It cannot be a referendum on both pathologies, since Senator Clinton is white and Senator Obama is male, and that probably can’t be rearranged. But the editors no doubt feel it was a sound decision to take the front page of the "Week in Review" to alert their highly educated readership to the previously undiscerned pattern of electing white males as president. It is, I would go so far as to suggest, even more than a pattern. There it is, in boldface, under every one of the forty-three pictures: White Male . The format is that of a rogue’s gallery, and under each mug shot the designated offense¯Robbery, Rape, Embezzlement, Drug Smuggling, Extortion, etc. Except, in this case, it is the same offense forty-three times over: White Male .
As Mr. Nagourney says, "[T]he 2008 campaign may offer a voters a novel choice." In addition to the novelty of race and sex, there will be another great novelty in 2008. To judge by Mr. Nagourney’s account, it appears that the other party is not going to be running a candidate for president. Or, if they do, it’s more or less irrelevant, because they’ll only try to perpetrate the offense for the forty-fourth time. And so, in 2008, for the first time, we will have in the run for the Democratic nomination a clear up or down vote on whether America is more racist or more sexist.
On the other hand, Obama may take the second spot on Clinton’s ticket, in order to gain experience for his presidential run in 2016, and then we’ll never know what was proved about the relative power of racism and sexism. The one thing we know for sure is that, while race and gender are not the only issues in American politics, 2008 may provide an opportunity to end at long last the patriarchal and racial hegemony that the Times has so helpfully brought to our attention. Forty-three is enough! (I can still hardly believe it. Every one of them a White Male .)
According to conventional wisdom, embryonic stem cells are the wave of the future. Sure, there may be some ethical concerns, but scientifically and medicinally they’re rock solid. Not so fast. In the January issue of First Things , due to hit newsstands on or about December 15, Dr. Maureen L. Condic argues that the “promise of obtaining medical miracles from embryonic stem cells” is a “fairy tale.” You won’t read about it anywhere else. Isn’t it time you subscribed ?