Identity Crisis

The Democratic Party has been asked to choose: Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama? Fervent Obama supporters and Clinton enthusiasts are prevalent across the nation. With such similar policies, do aspects of these candidates’ identities influence ballots? In the 2008 campaign, race and gender have stolen the show and in most cases, the votes. Throughout his candidacy, Barack Obama has proved to be a prevailing force among candidates. Yet one thing separates him from all the others: his skin color. People have speculated, but only some have asked: has Obama received the “black” vote? In my opinion, he has. In general, Obama has the support of the African-American community, but it is important to note that this allegiance was not easily won. From the start, race has not been a major factor in Obama’s personal life. Last year, in a “60 Minutes” interview he said, “I am comfortable in my racial identity and recognize that I’m party of a very specific set of experiences in this country, but that’s not the core of who I am.” Throughout the past year, however, race has played an important role in Obama’s campaign, as the level of support he has received in the black community has waxed and waned. When reports of criticism from African-Americans surfaced, black leaders, such as Oprah Winfrey, Chris Rock, Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, were quickly incorporated into his campaign. In the middle of January, an overwhelming amount of support in South Carolina from black voters prompted Obama to make a detour in Georgia, where a win would depend on his ability to also appeal to white voters. So if Obama’s campaign has attempted to look at racial divides between mostly white and black voters, where do Latinos fit in? Clinton’s campaign has been publicized as drawing Latino votes, and her recent wins in Nevada, California and her home state of New York have only supported this claim. The New Mexico primary may contradict the above claim, however. There, Clinton was ahead of Obama by 0.8 percent of the votes in a state where over 40 percent of the population is Hispanic, a seemingly decisive win. What Clinton has won over is not the Latino vote. Instead, it is more of what could be classified as the immigrant vote. Many first time voters in this election would have come to the United States while Bill Clinton was still president. For many of these people, familiarity and facial recognition will have played an important role in their vote. Nevertheless, Clinton’s gender may play as large of a role in her campaign as her well-known name, even though less has been mentioned about her femininity than Obama’s race. In one of the more controversial events of her campaign, Clinton shed a few tears after a voter asked, “How do you keep upbeat and look so good all the time?” It may be fitting to note that in 1972, Edmund Muskie, former Governor of Maine, U.S. Senator and U.S. Secretary of State, broke down into tears while running for a presidential nomination. His campaign promptly ended. Do gender and gender stereotypes really influence voters? Is misogyny more prevalent in society than we think? As far as the history of suffrage in the United States is concerned, the barrier of race was conquered half a century before that of gender. Recent national polls have shown that Obama has a four percent lead when compared to Republican nominee John McCain, while McCain has a one percent lead over Clinton. Would it be too irrational to conclude that this poll may suggest that the general public is more comfortable with a male candidate over a female candidate? Race and gender are both factors that will influence how someone votes. In a perfect world people would cast their vote for whom they feel would be the best president. In reality, that is not the case. According to Carlos Hoyt, Associate Dean of Students, “Humans have a need for social coalition.” Under the circumstances of an election, he said that people “will often resort to superficial social identities.” In a presidential election, in which millions of people are voting for some abstract character, many people will rely on superficial factors to help determine whom they will cast their ballot for. For some, that will mean simple recognition. Clinton captured 69 percent of the vote in Arkansas and only 57 percent of the vote in New York. Former President Bill Clinton was Governor of Arkansas for about ten years before becoming President while Hillary Clinton has only been a New York senator for the past eight years. Here it becomes evident that face time matters. While it is a huge step forward for our nation to have two minorities in the political world up for presidential candidates, the issues of racism and sexism have not been suddenly resolved. Just because we have a presidential nominee that is not white does not mean that we have moved into a “post-racial” generation. Quite similarly, just because one woman may have the opportunity to do what forty-three men have done before her, including her husband, does not mean that gender divides have been resolved. As our society moves on and the 2008 Presidential race continues, more ballots will be filled as deadlines near. While social affinities will be a factor in the thoughts of many voters, I hope that as a country we will be able to see beyond these superficial differences.