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Yes, Race Influences my Vote

There! That should be provocative enough as a title. Actually this post will be more of a gathering of election thoughts at this point in the campaign.

But first, to honor the title, I think that there are very few people in this country who can honestly claim that race has no influence on their vote at all. That 1 in 5 thing from West Virginia just catches honest folks. I’m not saying that the vast majority of people are racists. What I’m saying is that we don’t have race issues so thoroughly removed from our systems that we don’t even think about it.

At a minimum, I’m guessing most Democrats have at least discussed whether Barack Obama can win because of the prejudice of other people. That’s a dangerous argument to have, because in some ways it’s allowing the bigots a veto without even having to make the effort to vote. Perhaps a better plan would be to make a positive effort to educate wherever possible and then hope that there are enough people of good will to make the difference.

For me, however, there is an additional point. I think the nation benefits from some diversity in government. Thus both Democratic candidates entered the race with a positive bias from my point of view. If Hillary Clinton were elected, she would be the first woman president, and that would be a positive model for girls and women across the nation. If Barack Obama is elected he will be the first African-American president, and that speaks of a whole other set of barriers being broken. I don’t put diversity very high on my list of priorities, but other things being equal, it could tip the scales to one or another candidate. In this case, the scales are tipped by the Iraq war. I believe Obama is right about it, and continues to be right about it, and that’s why I continue to support him despite a number of economic policies with which I am less pleased.

I think we ought to be honest and admit that issues of race and gender are still functioning. The statistics don’t prove it as they can’t give us the real reasons for a person’s vote, but they are very suggestive. It’s probably not a policy issue that is causing the vast majority of African-American voters to support Obama, and it’s not policy that is doing the same thing amongst women for Hillary Clinton. As far as I’m concerned, I think that’s nothing either group needs to be ashamed of.

It’s easy to pontificate about voting pure issues, but the fact is that our perception of a candidate’s personal integrity, and whether we trust that person is part of most people’s thinking. I try to be more objective, and go through lists of issues, comparing my own position with that of the candidate, but there will still be other elements.

Voting is a good area for a bit of affirmative action, and I would say highly visible political appointments are as well. It is important that the justice system, for example, not only operate impartially insofar as possible, but it needs to be seen to do so. An all white judiciary, however well qualified, would leave an impression of unfairness. Those in cabinet positions are often seen representing our country. I have appreciated the way in which George Bush’s cabinet has shown better than average diversity. I don’t like much else about it, but I give him points for that!

Those who might claim that race or gender is extraneous on these types of appointments would probably suggest that we take the person who is the best candidate, irrespective of such irrelevant factors. But such a selection occurs only in imaginary worlds. In practice, such appointments have to do with community relations, personal interaction, and subjective impressions. Just as the campaign staffs for Obama and Clinton can each provide a spin for just about anything that means it’s good for their candidate, so one can spin the job application or the list of candidates for an appointment. One might as well admit the subjective factors and use them out in the sunlight.

Finally, I’m not with the folks, even now, who urge Clinton to quit the race. Yes, I support her opponent. Yes, I want him to beat her. But if I were a Clinton supporter and she were running, I’d want my chance to cast my ballot and at least have my say, even if victory was already impossible or incredibly improbable. Electability is low on my list of reasons to support a candidate anyhow.

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  1. Also? Race and gender are part of a person’s identity. To attempt to ignore them is to deny part of ourselves and part of others.

    There’s more cogent thinking somewhere in the cobwebs, but I’ve gotta run for now. 🙂

  2. If government is “of the people, by the people, for the people” — if this government is in any sense a representative democracy — then identity is not a dead issue. I do not think it should be reduced to bigotry to consider identity as a factor in representation. I know it opens a can of worms but I think the can was already open …

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