Voting Isn’t Just a Black-and-White Issue

By D. Allan Kerr

The folks behind Emily’s List recently sent out an e-mail asking for voters to commit “to electing black women to political office.”

A noble and inspiring cause, to be sure – and a perfect illustration of the Democratic disconnect with many working-class voters.

VoteIf I’m voting in a political race between a black woman whose beliefs are aligned with mine, who’s more qualified and prepared for office than her opponent, who shows she can lead and inspire, I’m likely going to vote for her.

But if she’s running against a straight white wealthy Protestant male who I believe is a better candidate for the same office, I’m probably going to vote for the guy. And I’m not going to apologize for it.

See, I’m sure the intention of the people at Emily’s List is to advocate for QUALIFIED black women running for office, and maybe they assumed this was so obvious no such description was necessary.

But I know when I first saw this message my initial impression was, “Okay, so race and gender should weigh heavier than any other factor?”

It’s the kind of message that supports the perception some Democrats are more concerned with a politically-correct, cultural checklist than electing the best candidate.

Right now a black woman named Kamala Harris, a U.S. senator from California, is running for president of the United States.

Kamala Harris

She made quite a splash here in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, but I happened to be in Florida on vacation. (I’m sorry I missed her, but Florida in February is awesome for any New Englander.)

I haven’t really vetted Harris or many other candidates yet, but she’s got a good resume and I’m impressed with the way she handles herself. Ideally, I prefer candidates I happen to “like,” and from what I’ve seen I like her quite a bit so far. I still need to review her positions on various issues, but she seems to know her stuff.

But while she’s a former district attorney and the first female attorney general in California history, Harris has only been on the national stage as a senator for two years.

In 2007, I was impressed and inspired by Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. He was brilliant and engaging, and of course a spectacular speaker. But he, too, had only been on the national stage as a U.S. senator for two years.

McCainRepublican nominee John McCain was infinitely more experienced, especially in foreign affairs and military matters. He had been tested in ways most of us cannot even imagine. He also happened to be perhaps my top political hero, so I had no problem voting for him. I’m convinced he would have made a great president.

In his excellent, and final, book, “The Restless Wave,” McCain declared Obama “had bottled lightning in a political environment that couldn’t have been more favorable to the party out of power.”

He also wrote:

“Above all, his success seemed to transcend political tribalism and represent real progress against the racism that had afflicted our society from its founding, and reporters, like most people, didn’t want to see that progress set back.”

I don’t doubt there were people who voted against Obama because of his skin color, or his name, but I voted against him in 2008 because I thought the other guy was a better candidate.

By 2012, he had earned my trust and thus my vote. That’s the way it should be.

But I also think some people voted for Obama because of his skin color, and I’m not sure that should be the primary qualification for a political candidate.

Emily's ListFor those who don’t know, Emily’s List is a group describing itself as “a community of over five million members that helps elect pro-choice Democratic women to office.” So to be clear, this is an organization with a pretty defined agenda.

This recent e-mail highlighted black women currently in office, including Ayanna Pressley, who earlier this year became the first black woman sent to Congress from Massachusetts (which actually surprised me.)

Pressley

But a quick Internet search revealed Pressley spent nine years on the Boston City Council before her election to Congress, and before that worked as an aide to Rep. Joseph Kennedy II and eventually became Sen. John Kerry’s political director.

She grew up in a tough Chicago neighborhood, raised primarily by her mother while her father dealt with drug addiction and incarceration. She later had to drop out of Boston University to help support her mother and never earned a college degree.

‘‘I happen to be black and a woman and unapologetically proud to be both,’’ Pressley said during her campaign, ‘‘but that is not the totality of my identity.’’

This is all more interesting to me than a single-minded clarion call to vote for someone based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, pedigree or whatever.

(March 10, 2019)

Follow D. Allan Kerr on Twitter @Sloth_Blog and on Facebook

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