Suzanne Fields

When Al Gore chose Joe Lieberman as his running mate, Jews were elated -- and scared. Many worried that if he said or did anything wrong, everyone would blame the Jews. That never happened; there's little evidence that anti-Semitism played any role at all in the election of 2000.

Now there's a similar buzz among blacks, who fear the nomination of Barack Obama would unleash a racial backlash. Black reaction to certain of Bill and Hillary's remarks suggest just such fears. The most insulting remark, in the complaints of many blacks, was the question of emphasis in Hillary Clinton's remark that "Dr. [Martin Luther] King's dream began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act." Fair enough (although a reference to her old civics textbook would remind Hillary that Congress passes legislation; presidents sign legislation into law). Then she added that "it took a president to get it done." That wasn't exactly wrong, but it wasn't smart. It wasn't racist, but it was polarizing. She diminished Martin Luther King Jr. and elevated Lyndon B. Johnson.

Questioned about her remarks on "Meet the Press," she told interviewer Tim Russert that "this campaign is not about gender, and I sure hope it's not about race." That's disingenuous and she knows it. She and her husband appeal to considerations of both gender (i.e. sex) and race, and so do many of their supporters.

Race and gender issues are frequently discussed together, but racial politics and gender politics are very different, historically and politically. Rights and injustices differ in degree, most dramatically perceived in the antebellum South, where many white women lived in plantation luxury through the hard work of black slaves. Both blacks and women campaigned vigorously for the vote, but blacks got the right to vote 50 years before women did. Nevertheless, blacks continued to suffer painful discrimination.

Many early feminists were abolitionists and crusaders for civil rights for blacks, but there was competitive tension in their rhetoric over the urgency of getting the vote. "Before Obama and Clinton, there was Douglass and Stanton," writes one black blogger, referring to the acrimonious debate in 1869 between feminist leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton and black abolitionist Frederick Douglass, the year before blacks won the right to vote.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

Be the first to read Suzanne Fields' column. Sign up today and receive delivered each morning to your inbox.

©Creators Syndicate