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Ferraro’s Obama Moment


Geraldine’s Ferraro’s comment that "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position" suggests that the fact Barack Obama is the current democratic front-runner is at best an aberration or at worst an injustice.  Mrs. Ferraro made a similar comment during the 1988 democratic primaries when she said of democratic presidential aspirant Jesse Jackson, "If Jesse Jackson were not black, he wouldn’t be in the race."  Mrs. Ferraro’s proclivity for viewing what has historically been an electoral weakness as strength only makes sense if one believes that Senator Obama’s ascendancy is due to some type of cathartic affirmative action moment.
How precisely are we, who believe in the possibility of a country that can transcend the confines of our racial history, supposed to interpret Mrs. Ferraro’s comments (present and past).  A Wall Street Journal opinion on March 13, suggests that Mrs. Ferraro’s "remarks reveal little more than a firm grasp of the obvious" but when did being Black become a virtue in American politics?  Since the end of reconstruction there have been only 3 Black senators (2 from the state of Illinois and 1 from Massachusetts), no Blacks on a major party presidential ticket, and only 3 Black state governors (if we include New York State’s recently elevated Lt. Governor David Paterson).  By contrast there have been 35 women senators, one woman (Mrs. Ferraro herself) on a presidential ticket and 29 women governors.           
So what exactly is Mrs. Ferraro’s problem with Senator Obama’s race?  I think that she, like many women of her generation who grew up during the era of women’s liberation, embrace a deterministic framework of social change.  Just as women received the right to vote before Blacks and were earlier senators and vice-presidential nominees, she believes that a woman deserves to be president before a Black man.  After all, there is an order to things.
            The Economist has referred to Senator Obama as "the most talented politician of his generation."  Given that racial classifications still play a role in American politics the wonder is that Senator Obama has achieved so much in spite of being Black rather than because of it.

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