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Where is history being made?

Sunday or Monday I heard a woman in New Hampshire say that she had been inclining toward Obama but then she wondered whether shed be able to live with herself years from now if she had to confess that she had had an opportunity to vote for the first woman president and hadnt done so. I wouldnt be surprised if many other women did and will feel the same way. And, on the other hand, that there have been and will be many people who decide for Obama for the reason that hed be the first black president.Prescinding from these two particular candidates, of the two possibilitiesthe first woman or the first blackwhich would be of greater historic significance?

About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.



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How far can we skip a stone across this shallow pond?The question may be moot in any event. One will probably be the other's VP.

It is not even close. Truly the fact that we do not know the answer shows how backward we are. Women, hands down. Black Males got the vote before women. As Steinem points out, no woman would have had a prayer to run for president with as brief a resume as Obama.

I disagree with Bill. A black president would be of greater significance, since historically that's going from three-fifths of a person to president. However, it is not a sufficiently good reason to vote for someone solely because his or her election would be the most historically significant. I wouldn't argue that it should play absolutely no role in how people vote, either.

I think they are equally historic. It seems futile to argue about who suffered more or less discrimination. But be that as it may, perhaps we would have had a two-fer--a black woman president--in Barbara Jordan if she hadn't become debilitated from MS and suffered an untimely death. Those old enough to remember the following from her during the Nixon impeachment hearings will recall an eloquent, charismatic, powerful (in the best sense of the word) individual: "My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total. And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction, of the Constitution."

Many countries have elected women political leaders--the UK, India, Israel, Pakistan, Germany, etc.--not to mention the royal female leaders of the past: Victoria, Elizabeth, Catherine the Great, Cleopatra, etc. But what country has ever elected as its leader a member of a minority group that was once enslaved and still accounts for only about 12 percent of the total population? An African-American president would be the greater historical precedent by far.

Anybody who would base her vote on "making history" rather than selecting a competent candidate who knows how to govern without being crooked is an idiot. If you think Hillary or Obama (or Romney, who'd be the first Mormon; or Richardson, the first Hispanic) are best qualified to deal with hard times in the Middle East, Putin, climate change, the economy, health care and the deficit, by all means, vote for them. But the question--which is more historic--encourages people to think more about the race and gender of the candidates than about which are most qualified.

Jean has said it all and said it very well.

My goodness! The question's not encouraging anyone to do anything. Everyone knows that if either is elected, there will be all kinds of stroies about the historic meaning of it all; the papers were already full of them when Obama won Iowa. What's wrong with anticipating them? I was presuming that people could make some elementary distinctions. And if people find themselves torn, thinking both of them capable, I don't myself think there's anything wrong with choosing on the basis of hisroic significance.Without justifying this (I guess I must preface this), how many votes do you think JFK got because he would be the first Catholic (and lost because he was Catholic, too)? A good friend of mine who was prepared to vote for Nixon was frustrated because his mother was going to cancel out his vote by choosing JFK, because she thought Pat Nixon's eyes were "shifty"!

I AGRRE WITH JEAN!Having said that, I'd sentence Bill M. to six years as a deacon in a black inner city parish to view firsthand the hardships black males continue to endure in their struggle.Finally, I think "historic significance" will not be a major factor in chosing xandidates, but rather how one strives to bring about what is fast becoming the biggest semantic of the campaign, "change."

Robert Scheer made the same point many of you are making in his column reprinted today in the San Francisco Chronicle:"Yes, it is important for the health of our democracy to break barriers that have held back a majority of our citizens, and for that reason it would certainly be an advance to have a black or female president. But that alone is not enough to to justify a vote. What we need far more than a change in appearance is one of perspective. Otherwise, Condoleeza Rice would make an ideal candidate."

Not one of you related to the fact that black men got the vote before women and that no woman would receive consideration with Obama'a brief resume. How do you discount that?Remember we are not talking about one's place in society so much as whether a woman can be the CEO of the country. Bob, I have been in inner city parishes and have been a counselor/therapist to Black males.Women are 50% of the country and there are only ten in fortune 500 countries while blacks at 12% are or have been ceos on six 500 companies. Those six have been on much higher ranked companies.Kenneth Chennault of American Express, Aylwin Lewis of Sears Holding, Clarence Otis at Darden Restaurants, Ronald Williams at Aetna, Rodney ONeal at Delphi, and Richard Parsons of Time Warner. Charles Prince III, Citibanks CEO. E. Stanley ONeal of Merrill Lynch.Let's not play the litany of women who have led their country. St Paul had a bunch who were prominent leaders. With most of them their tenures were short as male dominance reasserted itself. Your reasoning seems faulty unless you can relate to Steinem's two points.

The change campaign is as old as the hills. It is a marketing method the way the appeals to JFK and King are. Eisenhower campaigned that "it was time for a change." We need more than gimmicks. Remember what Truman said.

I think that having a black president would be of considerably greater historical significance than having a woman in the White House. True indeed, as G. Steinem pointed out in yesterday's NYT, that blacks got the vote before women, but I'm not sure that fact is terribly important (quite apart from the fact that intimidation, custom, bias, etc., kept many blacks from voting till the civil rights movement of the late xx. century.)Women, after all, never lost their legal freedom; they were never enslaved, with all that that state entailed. But then Obama, while black, is not precisely what most people mean by African-American, since the latter term seems to be today more and more used of those whose ancestors were enslaved in the US. His father was (is?) a Kenyan, and his mother a white American. Colin Powell, of course, is the descendant of slaves; but they were British West Indian, not US, slaves; do we call him African-American? Black? West Indian? or what? which makes me think of a story told by a prof. of English, who was teaching Othello to a bunch of undergraduates, and was taken to task by one of his students for referring to Othello as "black." "So what do you call Othello?" he asked said student, who replied, "He's African-American, of course."Later the prof asked one of his colleagues, who happened to be black, how he should deal with Othello. "Why don't you do as Shakespeare does?" said the other prof. "Call him a Moor."

Can we all stipulate that to discuss the question of comparative historic significance is not to encourage people to vote on the sole basis of sex or color?

One more comment on historic firsts. JFK was our first Catholic president, and much was made of that at the time; but (so far, at least) he's also been our last. Is that also historically significant? And what about a possible Jewish president? Is anyone talking about that? (any groundswell for Bloomberg?) Back in '64 when Goldwater was a candidate, some remarked rather waggishly that it would be typically American for our first Jewish president to be an Episcopalian.

Resurrect Shirley Chisholm or Barbara Jordan. That would solve the problem. Jordan was an amazing individual. What a loss with her death! I'd vote for her as POTUS in a New York minute.

Bill, I read Gloria Steinem's column, too, and I've admired her for a long time. Steinem was one of the first people to put her money where her mouth was re: working mothers. She set up onsite day care at Ms. Magazine. She has been a tireless defender of women who were sometimes marginalized and villified by "the movement" (i.e., her bio of Marilyn Monroe), and has always said that feminism is not about doctrine, but choice.So I could not understand her "who's the biggest victim, women or black men" column in yesterday's NYT.What about the fact that there are more black men in prison than in college?What about the fact that black men receive the death sentence for equivalent crimes oftener than white men?Shameful, and signs of what's wrong with our nation? Indubitably.But I wouldn't say those are reasons to vote for Obama, nor I don't think that Steinem's facts prove that we should vote for Hillary. They just prove that sometimes being a woman isn't all bon bons and manicures. Jimmy, Barbara Jordan would have been a great prez with Fanny Lou Hamer as her straight-talking press secretary. Remember, "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired."

I believe that it would be historically important if either Obama or Clinton were elected to the White House. That said, to answer Joseph's question, I think it would have greater historical "moment" if Obama were elected. The devastation unfolding in our country today within particular communities that are overwhelmingly black has no comparison to gender specific problems. The evils of patriarchy are still real, but the evils of racial inequality, not insignificantly affected by patriarchy, are simply more pressing, and I think an Obama presidency would yield a better chance at responding to these evils than that of any other candidate.If I had a dollar for every time one of my students (recall, I teach at a historically black university) told me that the U.S. considered blacks to be three-fifths of a person and then could not tell me the context of that fact, I would be a very rich man. Here, historical accuracy is important. The number came out of a constitutional debate regarding proportional representation in Congress. Southern states wanted slaves to be counted as full persons. Northern states thought this was ridiculous because, among other reasons, slaves would not get to vote, and would not be treated as citizens. Thus, the compromise of three-fifths. The constitution never says that blacks as such are to be designated three fifths of a person. All free persons are whole persons for the purpose of representation, including free blacks. Moreover, many of those who wanted to reduce the power of southern states did not want slaves counted at all. Thus, to be anti-slavery meant advocating that, for the purposes of representation in Congress, blacks not be considered persons at all.The real problem in our country has nothing to do with fractions, but with a kind of species taxonomy that reduces blacks either to a different breed of human being, or even a different species altogether. This is not an unusual strategy for societies that have biologically linked caste systems. While I think we have gone a long way in ridding ourselves of this notion, I think it still lingers in terrible ways in our country (perhaps most clearly in our willingness to tolerate the above mentioned devastation, a devastation seen simply as a natural outcome when too many blacks live in the neighborhood).Steinem's argument both is and is not persuasive. I think she is absolutely correct that there is a double standard at play. However, her switching of the sexes (please, this is what we all mean, not gender, we just can't say/write the word SEX!) makes something of a point, but not the one she really wants to make. She is likely correct that a woman with Obama's qualifications would have a much more difficult time being considered qualified. However, this does not mean that those making such a judgment about a woman with Obama's qualifications would be correct in their conclusion, just as I do not think one is correct in drawing the conclusion that Obama is not qualified (despite her claim that she would volunteer for Obama, I do think Steinem's argument has the deliberate implication that Clinton is more qualified, an argument that I do not agree with).I have never given an argument against voting for Clinton (and Bill, I have read Schussler Fiorenza, Johnson, and Ruether, along with with hooks and many others). I have only sought to give reasons to vote for Obama. I, for one, am very glad that New Hampshire voters gave us reason to believe that media driven sensationalism is not the final arbiter of presidential politics. If Obama is going to win in November, it would almost certainly be because he showed he could win a long campaign against Clinton. An easy victory in the primaries would only add to concerns that there is something symbolic rather than substantive about his candidacy.

Here you are ladies. Obama, the post feminist is really the one who understands you.

Greater historical significance to whom?Although I appreciated Steinem's recent column, I still prefer last year's column where she warns against the problems of trying to decide whether racism or sexism is worse. "[T]he greatest reason for progressives to refuse to be drawn into an irrelevant debate about Senators Clinton and Obama is that it is destructive. We can accomplish much more if we act as a coalition."Arguing about whether a black man or a white woman would be more historic simply encourages an image of the two groups as adversaries rather than partners in a new future. Let the pundits pontificate if they will -- I don't see the helpfulness.

Just saw this thread.for the reasons mentioned in the other thread. Obama would be more historically significant and important.Race is an important issue in the Anglo world. It needs to be addressed in symbolic ways. Obama does that by being able to transcend the issue and not run as a "black" candidate, his blackness is part of who he is but not the reason he is running.Race is an issue in Canada and certainly and issue in other parts of the Western world although they are less willing to talk about openly.As has been mentioned, women HAVE been elected political leaders of Western countries (heirs to Roman imperialism and colonialism). It would be far more historically significant symbolically for the 'other' to finally become the leader, particularly of the most visible and powerful country, the United States (the new "Rome" of our world).

As an asideHillary was the first to play that card in the race. "I embody change. I would be first female president" (didn't she actually say that recently)Obama is trying to transcend the issue and build the coalition Gina mentioned. That fact alone should decide it.

Obama is trying to transcend the issue and build the coalition Gina mentioned.

George, No doubt many Americans are tired of extreme partisanship. But Obama is running as a liberal Democrat, not a centrist. So exactly how is he going to remain true to his liberal Democratic positions and end partisanship? Is he going to press a liberal Democratic agenda using a civil tone of voice? Is that going to cause Republicans to join the coalition? Or is he planning to compromise with Republicans and give them a significant amount of what they want? And if so, which of his liberal Democratic positions is he going to abandon?Republicans and Democrats have fundamental disagreements, and after eight years of George Bush taking a hardline conservative approach, do Democrats really want to win the election so they can compromise with the conservatives?It is questions like these that make a number of us believe "Change You Can Believe In" is actually a fantasy. Check out this article in the Washington Post.

Just out of curiosity, where is the liberal Democrat label coming from? I certainly remember David Brooks using it, but I do not remember Obama using it. He has argued for greater personal reponsbility within certain (often very black) communities. When I was in Illinois, he suported (if memory serves) Illinois's own version of the Patriot Act.Compromise is a often seen as dirty word, but I hardly find it to be so. Rather than being a failure in principle, I think it can be viewed as the highest political principle. I also do not see working with those less liberal as requiring one to "abandon" political positions. For example, if I were a politician, I would work with businesses to increase the safety net for workers, especially those in areas impacted by globalization. I take this to be a rather liberal concern. However, I would be willing to consider reducing (even further) corporate taxes, often considered a conservative desire. I would consider it a win-win, personally, because I, for one, worry about the impact of corporate taxes on corporate flight. Thus, I get businesses on board for improving the employee safety net, and I reduce the risk of loss of jobs from corporate flight. Would such a strategy be misleadingly characterized as liberal? This is a genuine question for those who are leveling this critique against Obama (remember, the WaPo article cited by Grant in an earlier thread shows that Obama used this strategy to get police interrogations video taped in Illinois).

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