Washington Matters


Do Clinton and Obama Owe Each Other?


Watching the 2006 movie of Alan Bennets play, The History Boys, the other evening, I was struck by the exchange between one of the boys and his female history teacher. Responding to her chiding about women's  role in history, he answers an exam question by noting that Elizabeth I was less remarkable for her skills than for the circumstances which allowed her to use them.

In the midst of this presidential campaign season, I find myself pondering a similar proposition: Are the two remaining candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination less remarkable for their skills than for the circumstances which may propel one of them into the White House? Don't get me wrong. Both Obama and Clinton, like Elizabeth I, possess extraordinary talent and abilities, and each is qualified to be the party's standard bearer. But at least some of their popularity can be attributed to voters' disillusionment with the current occupant of the Oval Office. How much more of their success is owed to the coincidence of two out-of-the-usual-mold candidates in one year?

Certainly having a black man and a woman as serious contenders in the race seems to have given a jolt of new energy to the Democratic base. It particularly galvanized young voters of all races and female voters of all ages. Could one or the other have done that job as well on their own or do they owe something to the synergy created by their candidacies? Does having a black man as a serious contender make it seem ordinary to also have a woman's hat in the ring? And did having a woman as the clear front runner in raising a campaign warchest make it seem simply business as usual that an African-American would be her toughest competition? I can't help but wonder if either Obama or Clinton had faced only rivals with the usual white male faces , would he or she have been marginalized as the black or the women's candidate?




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