The more things change..

It’s all over but the coronation. Barack Hussein Obama has achieved a historic win. As the New Yorker notes, we can now call him by his full name now that he has won, and anyway BHO sounds much better than BO.

On election night, I watched McCain give the best speech of his campaign – the only speech where he appeared gracious and honorable and statesmanlike. Too bad he waited until his concession speech to show this side of himself.

Then I watched Obama’s victory speech, which was very inspiring too except for the Oscar acceptance part when he started thanking everyone from David Axelrod to his wife and kids. Does he have a dog? I wondered. Will he thank it next? Isn’t the average American supposed to have 2.3 kids and a dog?? Barack has done well on the 2.3 kids, so I was not surprised when his next line was about getting a puppy.

Watching all the campaigns over the last 2 years taught me an unwritten, but important rule of American politics – when you speak, you must always have an adoring spouse standing behind you, smiling broadly, clapping at appropriate points and generally acting like an NFL cheerleader (highkicking is optional).

If, on the other hand, you are a candidate who doesn’t have a spouse standing behind you at every campaign rally, there must be something wrong with you.? If you are 30 and single and we don’t even hear about your girlfriends, then you must be gay. That is exactly what the opposition insinuated about Ashwin Madia.? Not surprisingly, Madia lost the election.

If this election was a vote for change, it was obviously not a vote for too much change. It was sad to see Proposition 8 (which seeks to ban gay marriage) pass in California. ? Some minorities will still need to go a long way to become equal.

But electing a black President was a huge change for this country. It was historic because it would have been unthinkable even a few years ago. As Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post said with tear-filled eyes, even a few years ago, he would never have believed such a thing would happen. Not that he would have calculated the odds of a black president and concluded they were low – the very idea that a black man could become President was unthinkable.

I watched black men and women of all ages, columnists and college students, get teary eyed after the election. Middle-aged and elderly blacks, especially were more emotional than young people, no doubt because they had experienced much stronger racism. You could not watch the scenes without getting a little emotional yourself, and realize how historic this election was, not only for blacks, but for America in general, because the country had taken a significant step towards becoming a post-racial place.

So yes, it was a historic change. But when Obama said in his speech “America is a place where all things are possible”, I wondered if he wasn’t going too far. Obviously it depends on how you define “all things”. It’s true if you mean that more than a hundred years after black men got the right to vote, a black man had become President. Yes, that was now proven possible.

Gay marriage still obviously does not come under “all things”. But minorities aside, what about the majority – women? Was it possible in America for a woman to become President? More to the point, was it now finally possible for a woman to become President, now that an African-American had become one?

After all, African-American men got the vote before women did.? Women in the US were granted the right to vote only in 1920. Black men, on the other hand, had the right to vote with the passing of the 15th Amendment in 1870. (It’s a different matter that this legal right to vote wasn’t much help in the face of continuing racism). But my point is – whoever made those laws were convinced that women were on the lowest rung of the ladder of legal and political rights.

Attitudes towards women have still not changed, even if we are now in the 21st century. Just look at the reaction to both the women on the ticket – if Hillary Clinton was vilified as a shrew, if we saw people holding placards saying “Iron my shirt” or selling nutcracker dolls, we saw Sarah Palin being cast as an airhead.? I am not defending Palin’s competence or suitability for the ticket.? But VPILF?? Is that the way one thinks about a Vice Presidential candidate?

Ironically, being seen as ignorant and incompetent may have helped Sarah Palin to some extent, as she was less threatening to many men than Hillary Clinton was. After all, when there are men who think women are not capable of taking decisions about their own body and reproductive choices, how do you expect those same men to believe that women are capable of running a country?

We will certainly not see a woman President in the US in the next eight years. Will we see one in the next eighteen?

Perhaps we will. But when it happens, don’t expect me to get teary-eyed. All I would feel is satisfaction on a much-needed change. My own country, India, has had a woman Prime Minister and now a woman President. Women have been leaders of major political parties. They have been, and are, powerful women, not stooges.

I guess Barack Obama should add a disclaimer to that speech – “America is a place where all things are possible, but eventually, in the fullness of time, and maybe when humans live on Mars.”

I would like to believe too, that America is a nation where anything is possible. but for now, I will face the reality – that statement doesn’t apply to everyone. Maybe that’s why it’s called the American Dream – that’s exactly what it is.


10 thoughts on “The more things change..

  1. It’s true that the 15th ammendment gave African Americans the right to vote but it wasn’t until LBJ passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965 that discrimination and intimidation that denied them the righ to vote truly ended. So it’s not been all that long.

    The passgae of Prop 8 was terribly disappointing. This.

    I completely agree, and I do make an (oblique?) reference to that. I didn’t want to go more into it because my point was – when they passed the 15th amendment to give blacks the vote, it never struck them to extend voting to women too. It took another 50 years and the women’s suffrage movement 😦

  2. @ Lekhni

    Ah the hierarchy of discrimination!

    I wrote about it during the primaries season, saying Hillary at least deserves at least a fair shot without the misogyny she kept facing. This post may interest you (I know I keep leaving you links, sorry; I know you don’t read my blog but sometimes the links are worth leaving):

    On June 4, I followed up with a brief comment which explains why the hierarchy of discrimination persists. But yesterday, I read an interview of Toni Morrison on Lunch With The FT and she talks about her observation how blacks were kept back due to their own inferiority complex when it came to white people. Perhaps women too are held back by that (not Hillary obviously but come on, where is the ‘pipeline’ from which leaders will emerge?)?

    I am trying to remember whose blog it was that I had a long discussion about how women politicians – Behen Mayawati being an exceptional bachelorette hence interesting to watch – have so far only been able to rise through marriage. Indeed I have a Muslim Sahibzaadi friend (her father is a Nawab of a major riyasat) who wanted to be a politician but her Hindu mom told her to get married first as single women had no line in politics. She never did enter politics but politics and law and religion at their cross-section are her speciality now and we are waiting for her unusual PhD to finish right now…

    Nooo….I DO read your blog, but haven’t read many of the older posts 🙂 I read your post about the hierarchy of discrimination and agree with that WASP.

    I believe women are held back not by their inferiority complex, but really by the prejudices of some voters. Surely there are many women Governors and ex-CEOs and so on who will take a look at some of the candidates in the primaries and wonder why they cannot run..

    Given the adverse climate, surely the ones who will find it easier to rise are those women who already have some experience or a foothold? (or have been successful in other fields)

  3. I agree we had a prime minister ( still we have in the sense that most powerful politician in India at present is S.Gandhi). But there is a long way to go for Common Indian woman in politics.

    I agree, and I do wish there were more women in the Legislature and Parliament in India. But that doesn’t take away the fact that women in India have held, and are continuing to hold, the highest office in the country. All this, despite the fact that India has been in existence as a democracy only for 61 years. The US is a far older democracy, and will still not have a woman President for years to come..

  4. In case of women leaders in the Indian sub-continent aka South Asia, the caveat is that many of them ascended power because of their family connections – either dad or husband (and in case of Rajiv Gandhi, mom). But they governed as well or as bad as their male counterparts.

    Having ascended power due to family connections is true for many politicians in the US too – male or female. Among the men you have the Bushes, the Kennedys, the Gores, the Romneys, the Bayhs – all popular politicians who followed their fathers’ footsteps. Or take Hillary Clinton or Elizabeth Dole. It’s a very long list in the US too..

    On the other hand, let’s not belittle the achievements of President Pratibha Patil or Renuka Chowdhary or all those others who had no relatives in politics..

  5. The time before Manmohan SIngh was designated PM, speculation was whether Sonia Gandhi would take up the post or not. And I remember most people complaining that she was a foreigner(!) and shouldn’t be allowed to lead the nation!
    Well, maybe things will change…sooner or later

    It’s sad that naturalized citizens are considered second-class citizens in most countries 😦 Remember that whole furor about whether John McCain was really born in US territory?

  6. Having ascended power due to family connections is true for many politicians in the US too
    Of course, I’m not disputing that. Though it’s debatable when it comes to Hillary Clinton – she seems to have made it on her own to a large extent, and I don’t know enough about Elizabeth Dole’s career to reach a conclusion.

    On the other hand, let?s not belittle the achievements of President Pratibha Patil or Renuka Chowdhary or all those others who had no relatives in politics..
    That’s why I used “many” and not “all.” 🙂
    Also, as we both know, the post of President in India is more ceremonial – the real power rests with the PM, or in the current instance, with the woman behind the man. 😉

    Is Hillary Clinton qualified to make it on her own? Eminently. Would she have? I don’t know. I’d like to believe she could, but I have my doubts, especially after watching people’s reactions to Palin – especially the reasons of those who like Palin.

    I agree the President has much less powers in India, but the President approves bills and does far more than the US VP – and there hasn’t even been a woman VP so far!

  7. True equality will come the day we don’t make a big deal about whether someone is male or female, black or white, gay or straight…. and just accept the person as is. I don’t know if that day will ever come.

    I suppose never 😦 Except, perhaps, in sci-fi novels..

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