Fiery Ferraro Fiasco

March 14, 2008 By: erik Category: Media, Politics, USA 440 views

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I’m way late to the game on bringing this topic to the blogosphere, but I wanted to post a few comments on this, now infamous, comment made by Geraldine Ferraro, the gist of which was, “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position [as a Democratic nominee front runner].” The first I heard of this was through Keith Olbermann’s Special Comment, in which he was convincingly harsh on both Ferraro and Clinton.

The definition of racism that I will use for what follows is this one:

racism (n): The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others.

It needs to be said that sentence I quoted above is not racist. It’s only barely calling others, the voting public, racist. All it says is that “a significant percentage of Obama supporters would be supporting Clinton if Obama were not black.” That is the assertion Ferraro was making.

As someone who is planning to vote for Obama for reasons entirely independent of race, her assertion offends me. Calls for her to apologize are not unwarranted. But that does not make her statement false.

I have searched the internet for any information one way or the other on the veracity of her claim, and I can find none. I suspect that the pollsters are avoiding the race questions because it’s a taboo. It would be interesting to see a histogram of the responses to the following questions:

  1. If you are planning to vote for Obama, please rate, from 1 to 10 how important his race is to you.
  2. If you are planning to vote for Clinton, please rate, from 1 to 10 how important her gender is to you.
  3. If you are planning to vote for McCain, please rate, from 1 to 10 how important his race is to you.
  4. If you are planning to vote for McCain, please rate, from 1 to 10 how important his gender is to you.

These questions can no doubt be worded better. I’m not a pollster, despite my surname. Although I have no data to back it up, I suspect that the distributions of the responses to questions #1 and #2 would look very similar.

Two more points…

Firstly, voting based on gender and race is silly. I have a friend who goes to feminist rallies every chance she gets, and has worked tirelessly fighting to get equal rights for women in the United States. I asked her who she would vote for between Clinton and Obama, and she said that she was truly torn. It would really help her cause if Hillary became president, but, in her gut, she thought Barack was the better candidate and probably won’t be able to vote for the lesser candidate based solely on her gender.

Secondly, who cares? The whole point of the democratic process is that we are choosing someone who best represents our interests. Although it would be nice if everyone voted based solely on political issues, people very often vote for the candidate that they feel is most like them, both politically and non-politically. While I could be wrong on this, I also suspect that the percentage of females voting for Hillary for gender reasons and the percentages of blacks voting for Barack for race reasons are pretty similar. Wikipedia says that 51.5% of the US is female, and 15% black.

I don’t have a solid opinion one way or another on this Fiery Ferraro Fiasco, but I’m annoyed by the media always making everything so black-and-white. (pun intended)

  • One thing your (admittedly non-professional) survey questions don’t take into account is the phenomenon of reverse racism (which, admittedly, is still racism). What if I say, for example, that Obama’s race is “very important” (assuming that’ll be one of your response options) to me, but it’s “very important” because I actively want a black president? That is, how racist would I be if I said I wanted Obama to win in part (but only in small part) because I like the idea of a non-white person finally running the country?

    How sexist would I be if I said I wanted HRC to win in part (but only in small part) because I like the idea of a non-male person finally holding that office?

    What if I told you that I hope HRC doesn’t win only because I can’t ABIDE the sound of her bandsaw accent? Would that make me a terrible voicist?

  • I have been biting my tongue on this whole thing. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen someone stand accused of racism if they are less than THRILLED with Obama. Really? Is that what it is? But wait. Aren’t I already a racist simply because I am white (and from the south no less), because I have heard that statement more than once during this campaign as well. As for the reverse racism, I have to wonder if it has crossed someone’s mind somewhere in the Clinton/Obama camps that getting votes because of minority status is also an insult. Eh, a win is a win I guess.

    I went on a rant (shocking, I know) the other day about polls and rattled off the same basic questions you listed above because meaningful polling has to be more efficient that asking vaguely if race/gender played a part in one’s decision. Pollsters are not avoiding the race question; they are simply not addressing it with anything approaching respectable rigor. If you want me to take your polls seriously, why don’t you make them relevant, efficient, and meaningful?

    God forbid we should focus on or learn anything useful or actually related to the election at hand about these candidates.


  • I guess we’d all be a lot better off if we stopped accusing each other of voting for less than ideal motives.

  • As a male Caucasian, I can’t tell you how happy I am that someone finally had the courage to stand up and say publicly what everyone knows: that it is virtually impossible to be elected to public office in the United States if you happen to be a white man!

    Ok but seriously: HRC’s campaign has been on a tear bringing up race in ways that may plausibly be denied to be racist. It’s unbecoming, and the only reason to do it is to inflame racist sentiment against Obama.

    sgazzetti’s point (about which way racism may cut) is a good one. Check out the Ohio exit poll linked at the end of my comment (and specifically the question “In deciding your vote for president today, was the race of the candidate important/not important?”) Hillary got 59% of the racist vote, as compared to 53% of the rest of Ohioans. Scan up two questions to the same question about gender, and Hillary got 60% of the sexist vote. (And as goes Ohio, etc.) This at least strongly suggests that it’s to the HRC campaign’s advantage to turn the topic of discussion to race and gender.

    In that context, it’s not necessary for Hillary and surrogates to say things that are racist, but merely things about race. It’s the strategy itself that is racist. At least in the sense that actively trying to manipulate America’s well known problems with race to personal advantage is racist. We could use a different term, but I think we can agree that it sucks.

    This is the Ohio exit poll I mentioned.

  • Erik: I agree.

  • Also, I love the title of this post.