No, no, no, no, no. That was not a great celebration of African-American history. That was a celebration of American history. —Barack Obama, when asked about a celebration of the place of the March on Selma in African-American history. (Taken from Andrew Sullivan’s blog, May 24, 2007.)

It is like a finger pointing away to the moon. Do not concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory. —Bruce Lee, Enter the Dragon (1973)

I hate to break it to you all but, unless things shift around quite a bit in Ohio and Texas real soon now, the first female president is not going to be one Hillary Rodham Clinton, nominally of Chappauqua, New York. We’ll just have to wait until later in the week to find out.

Is this unjust? Nope, it’s just how things worked out given the Clinton campaign’s manifest deficiencies in management, though she and many of her followers seem to think so. Numerous articles, such as this one by otherwise uber-angry feminist Maureen Dowd, point out:

Liberal columnists have waged battle on the Op-Ed pages of the New York Times and other major media outlets about her (compare, oh, Frank Rich to Paul Krugman), or, among readers on Stanley Fish’s blog. Many of the comments note something to the effect of “I went through the first wave of feminism and so I know where she’s coming from.” In my view, the fact that HRC comes from that first generation is precisely the problem.

One of the reasons that Obama has been so successful is that he’s not viewed as “in your face” about being black. He’s a politician who happens to be black, in an odd, decidedly non-traditional way which is itself part of his broader appeal. Jesse Jackson, lest we forget, ran for president twice and won primaries, several of them, in both 1984 and 1988. He was a serious candidate, but I don’t believe anyone really thought he was going to win. Eddie Murphy did a really hilarious skit on this on the now-classic “Delirious.” (Sadly no Youtube of it alone I could find… but check out this.) The problem is that Jesse Jackson came out of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. Obama is obviously the most successful of this new breed of black politicians who has benefited enormously from the civil rights generation, who protested so that, now, Obama doesn’t have to. He got to have a conflicted mental life as a young man but, ultimately, went to Columbia and Harvard Law—Ivy League bastions of white privilege not all that long ago—and succeeded at both places on his own terms. This is to the good, whether you plan to vote for or against him. (As I have clearly stated before, I’m pro, but that doesn’t mean I slavishly hold to all positions, e.g., I’m dubious of the NAFTA pandering.)

Over ten years ago survey researchers Paul Sniderman and Edward Carmines’ Reaching Beyond Race noted this point. To put their book in a nutshell: Most white people (and many others) simply don’t recognize highly racialized or genderized claims as legit, but politicians who make universal claims can do quite well. Many self-identified liberals were quite conflicted about race issues. For instance, need-based arguments have markedly more play than ones that are perceived through the lenses of race. Obama figured out a way to “reach beyond.” I bet he paid attention to the late Harold Washington, Mayor of Chicago from 1983 to 1988, who, despite coming up through the system back in the old days seemed to understand that as mayor he had to represent everyone in Chicago, not just his tribe. Harold Washington was a ground-breaking figure and his model would be very alive in the mind of an observant young man coming to work as a community organizer in that time period. Other black mayors like Tom Bradley (mayor of Los Angeles in the 80s) figure similarly. Colin Powell is another example of a trailblazing post-Civil Rights-era statesman, and someone I’m sure was looked at carefully. He’s Jamaican by ancestry, grew up in New York City, and came up through the post-segregation Army, where there’s only one color, green. He too doesn’t fit the old black politician idiom and, therefore, could move past it. Ditto for Condi Rice. There are others, e.g., Harold Ford, Jr., Jesse Jackson, Jr., and Michael Steele. All of these men have been successful at being politicians who happen to be black, not the other way around. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana seems to be analogous, though he’s obviously not black, but of Asian Indian descent. The fact that the good ol’ boys even recognize that he’s not black, or don’t care… that’s progress. None of these people are perfect but that’s unfair, holding real flesh-and-blood people to a “George Washington and the cherry tree” standard no one could possibly meet.

So my guess is that the first female president—whoever she might be, Republican or Democrat—is in her ’30s to ’50s right now. She was a girl through the feminist struggles and, unlike HRC (to say nothing of figures such as Gloria Steinem), she’ll have internalized from an early age the fact that women don’t have to bow and scrape to men, can be successful on their own terms, etc., in a way that the older generation simply hasn’t, indeed probably can’t. Mom burned her bra back in the day so that daughter doesn’t have to. Indeed, unlike mom, daughter wouldn’t even feel a need to torch her brassieres. While some more militant types simply can’t see this, if they were thinking clearly they’d realize that transcending previous generations’ struggles, realizing that some parts were crucial, others should be dropped as mistakes, and others simply don’t matter anymore is exactly the point. The first female president will probably have a law background (most politicians do, for better or for worse) and may be serving in a state legislature or some other such elected office as we speak. In other words, she’s going to be someone like the current AG of Illinois, Lisa Madigan. (In no sense should this example be considered an endorsement. Other examples would be welcome in the comments.) The long and short is that she’ll be primarily a candidate who happens to be a woman, not a woman candidate, and that will be all the difference in the world. Social change isn’t instant. It takes a while for old habits of mind to die—largely through attrition of those holding those habits of mind as time works its woe.

It’s somewhat a pity that our presidential system puts excessive focus on one office: Women have joined the ranks of corporate CEOs, senior leadership in the academy, senior leadership in government, state governors, the leadership of the House and Senate, and so on. The path is just like that taken by other groups before them… over the course of generations. Welcome to the future. It’s not a color- or gender-blind utopia populated by super “Race Man” or, the obvious parallel phrase “Gender Person”, but that’s good, not bad. It’s a damned sight different—better in many ways—than things were forty years ago, and anyone who doesn’t see that needs to look around.

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My thanks to comments from Angry Immigrant, Angry Overeducated Catholic, and Angry Political Optimist, who markedly improved the language of this post. Remaining flaws are, of course, my own.

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ObFascism Tag: “Next to Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock, Leni Riefenstahl was the most technically talented Western film maker of her era.” —Mark Cousins, The Story of Film. Proof that Fascism had its feminist icons, too! 😉

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