2/10/08 Chi. Trib. 5
Americans, particularly Democrats, are overflowing with
self-congratulatory exuberance. Without question, it's an amazing
sight: a black man and a woman going neck and neck for the
nomination to become president of the United States. We can hardly
contain our excitement. Aren't we great? Racism is now officially a
thing of the past. Not only are African-American voters turning out
for Barack Obama , as we would expect, but whites are voting for him
in huge numbers. The whole world is taking notice as we tell them,
without a hint of modesty, just how evolved we have become. There's
a little smudge, however, in this charming picture of 21st Century
post-prejudice Nirvana. We may be winning the war against racism ,
but sexism is putting up quite a fight.
The dirty little secret of this campaign season that supposedly
marks that death of prejudice is that sexism is alive and well at
the voting booth. The secret is quietly revealed in the exit polls
that pundits dissect after every primary and caucus, expressing awe
at the brave march of white voters across racial lines.
Why are white men giving their vote to Obama over Hillary Clinton?
Black voters have been voting for white candidates for as long as
they have participated in the election process. It does not take a
political savant to understand why Obama, a candidate who has
inspired much of America, is capturing almost all the black vote.
Women, too, have dreamed of the day when one of their own would have
a real chance to become president. Until now, the thought was
reserved for science fiction or for ill-fated television dramas.
Women are voting for Clinton and blacks are voting for Obama because
we all look for people like us, who think like we do, understand our
experience and, once in office, would be more likely to make
decisions with which we agree.
But what about white men, the poor things? After choosing, for their
entire lives, from a menu of candidates that look like them,
suddenly the choice is leaving them a little confused, at least in
the Democratic primaries. (Republicans at least broke the Mormon
barrier.) If we look for someone who looks like us, for whom should
a white man vote?
You might say this is too simplistic, and no doubt it is. Like all
voters, white men worry about much more than pigmentation and the
presence of a Y chromosome.
The experts tell us that men, the testosterone voters, care more
about issues such as strength and power. When pollsters asked voters
which candidate they viewed as the most qualified to become
commander in chief, the answer was Clinton by a huge margin. (It
doesn't seem right to call her by her first name, as most people do,
when thinking of her commanding the mightiest military force in the
world.) By this measure, men should be siding with her. Could it be
that Obama's call for a placid non-confrontational future is more
appealing to white men? Or could it be that many men simply cannot
countenance the image of a woman in a position of enormous power?
Ironically, Latino men, the people who generously gave us the word
"macho," voted for Clinton by large margins.
White men, on the other hand, are giving their vote to Obama over
Americans are rightly proud of what the election has brought. There
are remnants of racism in the country, and prejudice against women,
despite remaining stubbornly in evidence, has lost ground in recent
years. Otherwise, we wouldn't find ourselves here. Let's remember,
however, that women have already headed governments the world over,
in countries such as Great Britain, Israel, Argentina, Bangladesh,
and in many others.
This time, Democratic voters in the U.S. for the first time face a
choice between an African-American man and a woman. Because most
women and minorities have already decided who their candidate is, it
will be white men, fighting what is frequently a losing battle
against their own prejudice, who could ultimately have the power to
decide the outcome of this contest. Aren't we great?
Frida Ghitis is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing
World in the Age of Live Television."