Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Affirmative Action Candidate

No, not Barack Obama.

Geraldine Ferraro.

Let's look at what she said, to Jim Farber of the Torrance (Calif.) Daily Breeze:

"I think what America feels about a woman becoming president takes a very secondary place to Obama's campaign - to a kind of campaign that it would be hard for anyone to run against," she said. "For one thing, you have the press, which has been uniquely hard on her. It's been a very sexist media. Some just don't like her. The others have gotten caught up in the Obama campaign.

"If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position," she continued. "And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept."

That's pretty specific. She's saying that Barack Obama is where he is because he's a Black man.

In other words, he's the beneficiary of affirmative action.

Not the affirmative action that may or may not have had anything to do with his opportunities for education or employment -- Ferraro is postulating that the Democrat Party electorate is weighing Obama's race as a specific factor in evaluating him as a candidate. By inference, then, they are both forgiving his lack of objective qualifications for the office of the President, and overlooking Hillary Clinton's obviously superior qualifications for the office.

It's bunk.

Let's be clear: affirmative action is how you pick a running mate. A Mondale picks a Ferraro not because a Ferraro has any clue how to take over the top job if the Mondale keels over, but because by picking her the Mondale shows how enlightened he is, and creates through the choice itself the sort of excitement his corpse-like appearance and demeanor could never muster.

How you get to the top of the ticket relies on a more objective process. Set aside the question of objective qualifications for the Presidency -- the "who do you want taking the 3 AM phone call?" or the "great speeches are wonderful, but it takes spade work to pass legislation" (and let's also set aside the Clinton campaign's choice of the metaphor "spade work"). Let's focus on the process of choosing a candidate.

Candidates and their campaign operations present an image and message to the electorate. The electorate turns these into subjective assessments of whether they want that candidate to be the nominee. And then the electorate provides the sole form of objective evidence about the candidate's qualifications for the party's nomination: votes.

It doesn't matter whether Barack Obama would, in fact, crumple into a quivering mass of jelly if Hezbollah terrorists detonated an atomic weapon in Houston, leading to the collapse of American power in the world and relegating the USA to second-world status. One could make a very good argument that such an eventuality is possible or even probable -- but it's still a conjecture, a forecast, and therefore subjective.

But a tally of state contests won and delegates pledged is an observable, measurable and concrete fact. It is objective evidence -- in fact, the only objective evidence that counts for anything in this process -- that a candidate is more qualified to be his or her party's nominee than the rival candidates.

If any other objective criteria about experience, temperament, gravitas, and all the qualities a President should have made a dime's difference in this process, Bill Richardson would have won the nomination handily. But for whatever reason, he did not, and for whatever reason, Barack Obama has amassed a lead in pledged delegates, states won, and even the popular vote. That makes him inarguably the most qualified of the Democrat candidates in the same sense that Chauncey Fauntleroy is the most qualified pitcher on the sandlot if he's the only kid who owns a ball and bat: whatever you think of his ability to do the job once he has it, he's got an inarguable claim to the job based on the relevant selection process.

There is, of course, a delicious irony to Ferraro's comment. A Black man couldn't possibly have achieved the front-runner position in the Democrat Party's nominating process on merit -- no, he must have been given a leg up unfairly just because of his color. The affirmative action mentality taints any success on the part of a minority member with a whiff of suspicion that the success was not so much earned as bestowed by the white male establishment under duress from the enlightened (also mostly white) liberal establishment. As political conservatives and a certain segment of Black social commentators have observed, this is perhaps the most insidious poison of affirmative action.

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