Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Gender issues in American Politics

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on April 24th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

By the time you read this the results of the United States’ Pennsylvania Democratic primary will be known, so I will discuss those results and their implications for a continuation of the contest between Senators Obama and Clinton for the Democratic Presidential nomination in next week’s column. This week I want to begin discussing issues of race and gender in America, issues which affect citizens of many other countries as well.
Let me begin by telling you that I am an unabashed male chauvinist. The term “chauvinist” is derived from the last name of a legendary French soldier, famous for his devotion to Napoleon, Nicolas Chauvin. I am a male chauvinist in the sense that I love being a male of our species, make no apologies for it and will always defend us against attacks on our inclinations and tendencies as males. That is not to say that as males we don’t have some faults as human beings because, indeed, we have many different flaws.
Having said that, I think you should know that I am also a feminist. I am a feminist because I recognize, as many women also do, that for centuries the female of our species has suffered from abuse and been a victim of intolerable inequalities within male dominated societies around the world. If I was a female I too would want to fight against gender inequalities. To that end, in 2005 I was asked by some of my female classmates at the University of Texas at Dallas to help start the first on campus chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and served as the chapter’s Secretary (ironic position for a male officer to hold eh?) until I moved to Ireland in September of 2006.
Thus I am sympathetic to the many women of all ages and races in America and the rest of the world who regard Hillary Clinton’s Presidential candidacy as a true turning point in America’s history as regards equal rights and opportunities for women. But many women in America also believe that Barack Obama would be a better president than Hillary Clinton for many of the same reasons I do. Some of them are also members of the feminist movement and they tell me they’re being treated like traitors by their feminist friends because they’re not supporting the woman who is running in this historic election.
But is this really how we should make our decisions about who should lead the most powerful country in the world, based on our feelings about America’s history of racial and gender inequality?
Shouldn’t one ask the question “Am I really advancing the cause of equal rights regardless of one’s race or gender by casting my vote for a political candidate primarily because we are of the same race or gender?”
If I vote for a person on this basis and they get elected and then do a poor job won’t there be some who will wrongly associate this poor performance with their own misconceptions about racial and gender differences and say “Well I told you a person of this race or gender isn’t properly suited for the difficult job of US President.”?
What exactly distinguishes me from an obviously biased or prejudiced person who will not vote for a candidate or will vote against them precisely because they happen to be a woman or a person of colour?
The differences regarding what the US domestic and foreign policies would look like under Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama are relatively few but not insignificant when you examine them closely. Obama recognizes that while Clinton’s proposal for a universal healthcare mandate sounds great to voters, such legislation has no chance of ever becoming law because the Republicans will keep it bottled up in the US Senate.
Hillary Clinton also chooses to ignore the fact that a similar plan was soundly defeated when she tried to push it through Congress during her husband’s first term in office 15 years ago. On the other hand Obama proposes incremental steps beginning with a mandate for children that Republicans will have difficulty opposing in the Senate. Obama believes that once you get some Republicans started down this path it will then be possible later to draw some of them to the idea of a mandate that covers adults as well.
Thus the real difference between Obama and Clinton’s universal health care plans is that Obama’s has a very good chance of passing the Senate while Clinton’s sounds better but has virtually no chance of ever becoming law. There are other important differences between these two candidates upon which one can base one’s decision on who to vote for which also have nothing to do with their race or gender.
On more than half a dozen occasions Hillary Clinton sought to burnish her military and foreign policy credentials by referencing her having to run from sniper fire on a visit to Bosnia as First Lady. That is until a few weeks ago when, following assertions contrary to Clinton’s by others who were there in Bosnia, CBS News unearthed video footage showing her entire arrival ceremony in Bosnia, noticeably absent any running from the plane or sniper fire. When confronted with this evidence Hillary at first claimed she miss-spoke and then later said she had done so due to sleep deprivation.
My question is what was Clinton thinking when she first started telling this tall tale three months ago in Iowa? Did she not bother to consider the fact that there were numerous US State Department, military and Bosnian witnesses to her arrival in Bosnia that day and that video footage of the visit probably also existed as well?
Unfortunately this is not the first time that Hillary Clinton has shown poor judgement and this lack of judgement has nothing to do with her being a woman. It does however reinforce my view that Hillary is just another politician who will say anything she thinks will help her get elected.

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