Inside the Capitol

Monday, October 06, 2008

10-8 Confronting Racial and Gender Politics

WED, 10-08-08

SANTA FE - New Mexicans and Americans, alike, must confront the uncomfortable issues of race and gender relations this year, as they never have before.
The unlikely event of a minority and two females taking center stage in the 2008 elections, contrasted with an old, white war hero makes for a scenario that our citizens wouldn't find believable if it were fiction.
In modern vernacular, it is the perfect storm of human relations. How four such opposite personalities as Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, Hillary Clinton and John McCain could dominate one election year, stretches the imagination.
It would make a good essay question for a post-graduate college final exam, but it never could happen in real life. Sen. Joe Biden normally would be considered a rather colorful character, but in this tale, he becomes Everyman.
For years, we have been able to skirt the issues of race and gender relations in politics. Several prominent Hispanic politicians in New Mexico have contended in the past that there is no such thing as racial politics in the state. This year, we must face up to it.
Geraldine Ferraro and Hillary Clinton may have softened attitudes about women as president. A year ago, when Clinton was the presumed Democratic nominee, I received pornographic jokes about her. The attacks on Sarah Pallin haven't been as bad, despite Republican claims.
National pollsters have been trying to measure racism's effects. GOP groups began last spring testing with focus groups just how far they could go on the race issue if Obama were to become the Democratic nominee.
The answer was not very far, but that all three of Obama's names were a gold mine for releasing unspoken negative feelings.
And then came Bernalillo County Republican chairman Fernando C de Baca, uttering statements that many of us who have lived around these parts for countless years have heard expressed in one way or another.
C de Baca was speaking to the foreign press and may have been trying to be a bit professorial when he spoke of old-time Hispanic feelings about Blacks. Regardless of what he intended, C de Baca crossed a line that no one can cross publicly.
Politicians from both parties jumped on it as if it were a pot of gold, offering them the opportunity to demonstrate their good will toward all men. No amount of explaining could make it right.
I won't speculate about C de Baca's motives but I have been acquainted with him and watched his career for over 50 years and always have known him as an honorable person.
I feel sure that C de Baca's comments did not include the younger generations of Hispanics' feelings about Blacks. The passage of generations helps. Please understand that I am not preaching when I speak of undisclosed attitudes because I find myself harboring them.
Although I am disappointed about John McCain's reversal on many issues since his 2000 presidential run, I still hold more good feelings about him than I do about Barack Obama.
McCain and I are near the same age, have similar ethnicity, are from neighboring states and have similar senses of humor. That is total personality politics and I would hope we don't choose our leaders that way. But I have to admit, those feelings are there and they may decide what I do once I get in the voting booth.
And I dare say it will affect many voters. Obama won most of the Democratic primaries in the caucus states, where people had to go stand in a group with other Obama supporters.
But Hillary Clinton won most of the primary election states. In some of those, Obama had a lead in the pre-election polls and still had a lead in the exit polling, only to lose in the ballot box. A different kind of thinking went on inside those voting booths.
Obama may need a 10-percent lead in order to win on election day.

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