Editor’s Note: Issac Bailey has been a journalist in South Carolina for two decades and was most recently the primary columnist for The Sun News in Myrtle Beach. He was a 2014 Harvard University Nieman fellow. Twitter: @ijbailey The views expressed are his own.
Issac Bailey: If diversity really matters, then so does Hillary Clinton's gender
By any objective, nonpartisan standard, Clinton is qualified to be president, he says
I complained about the arbitrariness of a cop giving me a ticket in a speed trap. That’s nothing compared to what men like Avery and Huggins – and too many others – face. Finally, the public seems to be recognizing that ugly reality.
But you know what might be even more difficult for women to handle in that time? Not seeing the first woman sitting behind the big desk in the Oval Office – and not knowing when the next woman will have as legitimate a shot of winning as Clinton does this year. A couple of tin-eared statements from two high-profile Clinton surrogates notwithstanding, it would be foolish for women – or men who truly believe in diversity – to underestimate the importance of Clinton being in position to become the first woman to win the White House.
Take it from me, a black voter who has lived through the Barack Obama era and has had his sanity and integrity questioned every time he dared agree with or supported the first black president, or simply defended him from unhinged or racist arguments. More than that, I spent much of that time questioning myself, wondering if I hadn’t checked my brain at the door out of some blind race loyalty despite knowing how painstakingly I consider the options.
White voters and journalists can support white candidates every day, even exclusively, without ever questioning themselves about potential race loyalty. But as a black American, it’s been hard navigating the Obama years knowing that people doubted me because I shared a skin tone with the first black president, harder still knowing I questioned myself. Yet I’d happily do it again, because no longer having to wonder if people like me can reach the highest heights is a gift beyond measure.
Such is the life of minority groups who finally see someone in their ranks break through historical barriers that once seemed impossible. Not only are they automatically suspect in the minds of others, but they also question themselves. (That we can even refer to women as a minority group despite the fact that they are more than half the population speaks to the depth of the double standard women face.)
Think about the way a potentially historic achievement was received in 2008 versus this year. Obama didn’t have to remind anyone what a victory would mean because the media and his supporters, and even plenty of his detractors, kept reminding us that an Obama presidency would say something positive about a country that was half-slave at its founding.
This year, Clinton and her supporters seem compelled to bring up the history she’d make because the media mostly turns any mention of it into the latest shallow “gender card” debate. This despite the truth that the gender card has been in effect throughout this country’s history – and it has benefited men every single time.
This isn’t a call for women to vote only for women. This isn’t to diminish support for Bernie Sanders or whichever Republican comes out of the GOP scrum to face the Democratic nominee. If someone other than Clinton represents your values and is a better representation of what you desire to see in a presidency, please, pull the lever for him. Vote for the most qualified candidate, the person who is right for this moment. That’s what I did in 2008 when I voted for Obama – and 2000, when I voted for George W. Bush. That’s what I suggest everyone do in November and in the primaries and caucuses over the next few months.
Indeed, I haven’t even mentioned Carly Fiorina until now because her presidential bid seems as far-fetched as Al Sharpton’s was in 2004, meaning Fiorina hasn’t cleared nearly enough hurdles to be taken seriously this election cycle. In contrast, Clinton, despite a loss in New Hampshire, remains the Democratic front-runner and is about to travel to states whose demographics suit her more than Sanders. By any objective, nonpartisan standard, she’s qualified, as much or more than any other candidate. She isn’t just any woman, meaning this isn’t about furthering the cause of an ill-defined political correctness.
Is Clinton flawed? Yes – just like every other candidate and every president who has ever served, including the current occupant of the White House.
But this does not change a simple point: History-making events don’t come around often. And if diversity really matters, then so does Clinton’s gender. It matters because it would represent another step in the never-ending quest to perfect this democracy, to assure that it becomes one in which we utilize all of the talent available to us, wherever we can find it. Unless you believe that only men have been qualified to lead this country, you must know that women have been held out of that spot because of gender, and that has been bad for this country in ways that are hard to quantify. That kind of legacy doesn’t simply disappear by ignoring or downplaying it.
Near the end of the 2008 Democratic nomination fight, Clinton said the highest, hardest ceiling had 18 million cracks in it, given the number of votes she received during the primary. No one should kid themselves, though. The glass ceiling is not broken – until it actually is.