Hillary v. Obama; Gender v. Race

OK, so I was groaning even as I wrote that blog title. Feels like its '94 and I just finished a Bell Hooks polemic. One thing I want to note is that, a few days ago, I wrote that Hillary's problem wasn't that she was a woman, it was that she wasn't funny. As my partner of ten years and baby-mamma Kenyatta, pointed out, that's only half true. It is a problem that she's funny, but it's also a problem that she's a woman--and those two issues are kind of related.

The fact is that frankly, for a woman, it's always going to be harder. And in cases where it may not be harder, you're haunted by the possibility of it being harder. I think it's difficult to miss the fact that Chris Matthews rants against Hillary are tainted by a sort of blockhead view of gender, and I suspect he isn't the only one out there like that. Hillary Clinton has to--or at least thinks she has to--worry about toughness in a way that a man never would. Hillary Clinton has to worry about being taken seriously--or at least she thinks she has to worry about it--and thus is not free to be joke in the way that Obama is.

I only hedge on this point, because I think a significant part of Clinton's view on what she can or can't say has to do with her age. She comes from a generation of women where these were legitimate concerns, and thus has been formed by that. Whether that's true today is beside the point. This is the crucible in which she was forged. It's worth noting that the same thing has taken place among blacks. Older African-Americans, of the civil rights generation, have always been obsessed with how they come across to whites (it's no mistake that the ceremony is called the NAACP Image Awards). But Barack Obama is younger and of an age where these issues were more complicated, and didn't require such a defensive crouch, as Andrew Sullivan put it.

That said, once you decide to run for President, all of this is unimportant. You play the game as it is. You know when you take the field your playing in an away stadium, and you've got to take that into account. Here is where the color and race thing differ. Barack Obama's campaign hails back to the old black mantra of "twice as good." You can't sit around complaining about racism if you want to win. You have to accept it, and win despite it. That's an attitude born of of constituting only 13 percent of the population--you simply can't change the rules from the outset with those sorts of numbers.

But Hillary's base--women--constituite a majority of the electorate, and to her mind, that allows her to question the rules. From her perspective, she should be able to function on the same level as a man because the numbers favor her. All of that works fine, until you face a dude like Barack who actually is "twice as good." The fact is that, in a perverse way, racism and sexism can you make you better, because it means you have to work harder to get ahead. Jackie Robinson wasn't just the first black ballplayer, he was a GREAT ballplayer. Jim Brown isn't just one of the great football players of all-time--he is also considered to be one greatest lacrosse players of all time. Martin Luther King wasn't just a civil rights leader, he was child prodigy.

Racism has made Barack a better, tougher candidate. It's taught him the futility, as an individual, of expecting--as Clinton expects--that the media is going to be fair to you. It's taught him that even when people are slighting him, he has to be gracious in a way that John McCain just doesn't have to. It's taught him that running as a black guy is suicide, while running as a white guy is just, well, it just is. Hillary is at a disadvantage because she's fighting a dude who has basically learned to kick ass (sorry Pops) while fighting with one hand tied behind his back. While she's off complaining about the rules, he's steady putting together combinations. Last night she whined about media coverage. But when Barack was asked about her shrill impression of him, he just laughed it off and kept moving. When she tried to press him on Farrakhan and score points, Barack not only dodged the haymaker, but exposed an opening and popped her with a quick jab. Hillary is in a street-fight. There are no rules here--at least none that will help her.

The biggest mistake she made in this campaign was expecting that she would have a fair fight. As Maureen Downd pointed out today, Obama could easily complain that he lost eleven straight elections he'd be written off. But why should he? Hillary seems to be running to expose the hypocrisy and sexism inherent in the process. She's hoping that on the way to becoming the first female president she can actually expose some of the biases. Fair enough and point taken. But Barack isn't running a campaign to call out the hypocrisy and racism of media. Dude is running to win. Who's being naive now?