Thursday, January 17, 2008

US Political Cleavages: When Sex and Race Collide

Albeit a questionable turnout, Hillary Clinton bested her fellow contenders in the Michigan primaries. Meanwhile, her supposedly closest contender, Barack Obama withdrew in the Michigan race for the state's violation of some agreements. For these, can it be said that the flower power is already on the scene? Or the blacks are still reserving their magic?

Accounts show that of the primaries the US Democrats ever organized, this year's election, so far, is the most sensational, most popular and highly publicized. Not only the Americans are awaiting the outcome but also the rest of the world. The result is significant not just on the aspect of international relations but also on the fact that the Democrat primaries is a battle of demographic cleavages in America – sex, and race. Too bad the battle will not spill-over to the November elections. Not unless Clinton represents the Democrats and Alan Keyes become the standard bearer of the GOP. This, however, is very unlikely as Keyes is always behind the scene as Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney and John McCain continue to be the crowd favorites among the Republicans.

Female voters in the US are not noted to vote by bloc. With the performance of Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire, however, the tide seemed to turn in her favor. Latest polls show that female voters are now most likely to support their kind. Hence, if the Democrats will field the lady Senator, there is a greater chance that the party will win the presidential seat. In the very first place, turnout is higher among the female voters as compared with males.

The only issue against Clinton is her experience. She claims that aside from being a Senator, she was also in the White House as an active partner of the President and not just a mere First Lady. Records, however, show that her stint as a Senator has only borne a few legislative accomplishments to her name. Even her being an “active partner” of the president is being belied by reports. Instead, she is portrayed as “more of a sounding board than a policy maker, who learned through osmosis rather than decision-making, and who grew gradually more comfortable with the use of military power”.

Her alleged experience and track record has also been tainted when she voted for the White House proposal authorizing the war in Iraq. She contradicted this, though, saying that what she supported was the version of Chuck Hagel. But when it was raised that the records show otherwise, she defended that she was just misled to vote – a statement which further pulled her down. Thus, critics had been echoing filmmaker Michael Moore's “Do you want a president who is so easily misled?"

Obama, on the other hand, has been known to have more substantial and varied accomplishments despite the fact that he never worked in the White House, nor governed a state or at least run a business. He had served as a community organizer, a civil rights attorney, and a teacher. According to the Associated Press: He helped pass complicated measures in the Illinois legislature on the death penalty, racial profiling, health care and more. In Washington, he has worked with Republicans on nuclear proliferation, government waste and global warming, amassing a record that speaks to a fast start while lacking the heft of years of service.

The issues being thrown at him, though, apart from the “thin record”, is his dilemma to easily translate money, crowds and enthusiasm to votes. Of course, there are still issues being thrown at Obama most of which are coming from the Clinton camp – his kindergarten essay, cocaine, the fairy tale of his anti-war stance, and his going to Indonesia for his conversion to Islam. These, however, were later dismissed by Clinton's camp as jokes.

Even then, Obama had fared well in the polls besting all other Republican contenders. And on the coming November, many are expecting that the blacks will support him along with other ethnic minorities in the US. Initially, this is also the forecast of Bloomberg as it reported that Obama's surging black popularity may even tilt South Carolina. The only worry is whether or not the blacks will indeed go out and vote. This is because demographic studies across time show that turnout is low among the blacks. It was only during the candidacy of Lyndon Johnson that the gap between black and white turnout rates is very narrow, a little over 2%. The turnout rate for the blacks is 72% while for the whites, it is 74.4%.

But then again, the political battle between demographic cleavages will only be at the primaries. And within the Democratic party. As to who will win and be proclaimed as the standard bearer of the Democrats, nothing is certain yet.##

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