Sunday, January 06, 2008

The significance of symbols

Whilst I'm no particular fan of positive discrimination there is no doubting the fact that a country whose upper layers are almost entirely populated by white male pipe smokers is one where anyone who falls outside of that mould will feel to be, somehow, an unwelcome guest in that society.

Personally I have my doubts as to the real impact having a black monarch or a woman in charge of Fifa would have on British society but for symbolic value it does contribute to the attempt to make society more equitable. It doesn't mean that a wealthy woman would not treat her female domestic staff just as poorly or that a black Prime Minister would necessarily do anything to uproot the real institutional layers of racism - but it couldn't hurt could it?

Well, it might. Thatcher's reign as Prime Minister did not exactly herald a new age of women's rights in the UK. If anything it was the end of a period of ground breaking advances made by the feminist movement.

On the other side of the pond we are rolling into a position where the next President of the United States may well be black - something that would be a fundamental break with the past in one of the most racist societies on Earth. In fact it isn't outside the realms of possibility that the Democratic Presidential team could consist of a black male with a white female running mate, possibly. Is this something that could override any political disagreements we might have with the candidates?

After all Clinton is hardly the darling of the left and whilst Obama has been as good as anyone could expect on Iraq I have my doubts as to his credentials in regards to both competence and commitment to prioritising peaceful solutions to international problems more generally. The Republicans have clearly decided they are losing this election anyway having refused to put up a single serious candidate - so perhaps we should try to get a Presidential team that compromises a little less politically.

An Obama / Clinton ticket makes a lot of assumptions - could the pair overcome their previous acrimony built up during the selection process? Probably not. But for Obama there would be a lot of sense to this, his weak spot is his inexperience and competence, an area that Clinton is seen as strong in. For Clinton, were she selected as the Presidential candidate, Obama's popularity would be a real asset to her campaign considering how reviled she is in some sections of American society.

My question is this though - if the US elects as its President and Vice President a pair who come from groups who are undoubtedly discriminated against would it have anything above symbolic value, and even if it didn't is the symbolism enough to justify voting Democrat in and of itself?

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