Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Gender, race and the presidential campaign

By Nancy Jane Moore

The very first vote I ever cast for a presidential candidate was for a black woman.

It was 1972, and I was participating in my precinct convention -- a type of caucus -- here in Austin. The precinct convention elected delegates to the Travis County convention, which elected delegates to the Texas state convention, which sent delegates to the national convention, which picked the party nominee.

(There was a time, oh my children, when national political conventions were suspenseful events, with the nominee in doubt until after several ballots. And deals were cut in the proverbial smoke-filled rooms to get to that point.)

Anyway, I went to my precinct convention and signed in for Shirley Chisholm. It was my first chance as an adult to express my preference, and she was mine. I still think she would have made a great president.

Alas, I was the only person at my precinct to sign in for Chisholm, meaning that I could either leave or pick another candidate. I chose my second choice, George McGovern (who wouldn't have been a bad president either).

Today I have the chance to choose between a woman and a black man, but neither of them is a token candidate, out to make a point. One or the other of them will be the Democratic nominee, and stands a very good chance of being elected president.

I was ready for this moment in 1972, but I'll take it today. Unfortunately, I have to choose. As a woman and a feminist, as someone who still remembers all the times I was told "girls can't do that," I would love to see a woman in the White House. As someone who grew up during the ferment of the Civil Rights Movement, attended segregated schools, and spent a lot of years living in a predominantly African American community, I would love to see a black president.

As I have already said on this blog, I have decided to vote for Barack Obama. My choice has nothing to do with the candidates' positions on domestic policy, which are essentially identical. It has more to do with foreign policy. I think Obama will deal in a more constructive way with both our friends and our enemies. I'm afraid Hillary Clinton will be content to do things the way they've always been done. Certainly she would do things differently from Bush, but I don't think she'd change the approach enough.

Essentially, my decision is drawn from a key principle of the martial art of Aikido: flexibility. At the highest level, Aikidoists resolve an attack by saving themselves and their attackers. You don't concede an important point, but you don't grind your opponent into the mat, either. Flexibility is at the heart of that process, because when circumstances change, you have to shift what you're doing if you're going to succeed.

I find Clinton's thinking rigid, and Obama's flexible. In the world at present, I find that flexibility critical.

I could, of course, be wrong -- not about flexibility (20 odd years of Aikido have taught me not only the principle, but the value of the principle) -- but about the relative skills of Obama and Clinton. I don't, after all, know either of them personally. I have to draw my conclusions from what they say.

If Clinton wins, I will enthusiastically vote for her in November. After all, the election of either Clinton or Obama shakes up the status quo in a way I've wanted to see since 1972. And it only took 36 years.

No comments: