With Clinton and Obama established as clear front-runners in the presidential primaries, the Democratic Party has issued a double-dog dare to the American people: Vote for a woman or vote for a black man.
It's momentous. A woman and a black man-the first viable candidates of either distinction-in one election. And it has the pollsters and media working overtime to figure out a very simple question: Is America ready to select a president from one of these groups?
According to a March Gallup Poll, most Americans claimed to be comfortable voting for a woman (77 percent) or a black (84 percent) candidate.
The difference in percentage seems fairly consistent with American history; after all, black men got the vote before women.
But do people tell the truth when asked questions that, if answered in the negative, would make them look like sexists or racists?
For boorish comedian Carlos Mencia, the answer is apparently yes. On his Comedy Central show, Mind of Mencia, he conducts man-on-the-street interviews about all kinds of inflammatory topics, usually involving race, religion or politics. Recently, Mencia asked several women if they would vote for a woman, and the responses were disheartening. (In a nutshell: No.) Seems some ladies out there think a woman would be too bitchy to run a nation.
Granted, a recurring theme of Mencia's show is stupidity-he even has a catchphrase for it:"Dee dee dee"-but really? Really?
Between speeches on Saturday, a couple of female CityBeat writers combed the streets of the Gaslamp, looking for subjects to dish their true thoughts on the matter.
Most people had no clue the convention was even in town. Several told us to bugger off, in terms ranging from polite to not so much. And no one would admit that race or gender was a consideration. They claimed their decision would boil down to the issues, even if they couldn't actually articulate the issues that mattered to them.
Some responses were puzzling.
One older white guy said,"I'm interested in that black guy from Chicago." When asked why he found Barack Obama interesting, he paused with an incredulous look on his face before walking off:"I was just playing. Weren't you playing?"
Dee dee dee.
A black woman who was handing out promotional lanyards near the convention center said she wasn't much interested in politics. She considered herself an Independent and hadn't picked a candidate yet. The issues that matter to her?"Um, you know, domestic and international. They should know a lot about that."
Dee dee... well, you get the picture.
Downtown was a total bust. We hoped what we heard wasn't representative of the population at large.
Maybe, as Obama posed in his emotionally charged speech:"We have become cynical about what politics can do in this country."
Cynicism is far more appealing than stupidity, after all.
Back at the convention, the politically active had more to say on the matter.
Alicia Belvini, a white 22-year-old San Diego State University student majoring in political science, spent her weekend volunteering for the Clinton campaign. She agrees with Clinton's stance on important issues-healthcare and the war-but says gender is definitely a consideration.
"The Philippines got the vote after us and they've had a woman president. It's not the deciding factor for me, but an important one."
Another white female college student, 21-year-old Julie Meigs, the president of the Chapman College Democrats, says she'll be voting for Obama.
"I wish we had a woman we could stand behind more," Meigs says, citing Obama's"steadfast" nature as a selling point for her."But, really, whether it's a man or woman, whatever their race, I go by politics. I want the best candidate. That is more important than my wishes to have a female president."
Kimberley Ellis, a 33-year-old black woman, traveled all the way from Richmond, Va., to support Clinton."It's about time this country recognized that a woman is just as good, if not better," she says, adding that by"better" she means"a different skill set."
The mother of two young children admits that at first she was torn between Clinton and Obama but now thinks Clinton will better address her key issues: healthcare, education, childcare, housing.
Ellis, who has political aspirations herself, says the notion that women could be too bitchy for office is ridiculous.
"I can be catty and bitchy, but at the end of the day, I have sound judgment and can make sound decisions. I think that when a woman is strong and assertive like a man, she is often considered a bitch. It's a shame that Hillary gets a bad reputation. Women should ask themselves: Could I run the country? Could my mother? Could my grandmother? Would we call ourselves bitches?"
Michael Koontz, a 24-year-old black man who drove down from L.A. to hear the candidates, says he's still undecided. He felt all the candidates said essentially the same thing in their speeches and wasn't convinced by any of them.
But he says that when he finally chooses a candidate, it will have nothing to do with gender or race."I will vote for who can do the job right, for who is responsible."
With all this intelligent discourse, the downtown dee dee dees seemed a distant memory. But then Heidi Lup, a 17-year-old volunteer usher from Mission Viejo, served up a reminder.
The white high school student, voted the"most political" in her class, says that most of her classmates uniformly follow their conservative parents' politics. And, looking a little sheepish, she laments that they acted like idiots in her civics class last semester.
"They would say things like, "You can't vote for [Clinton]! Every month she'll want to bomb someone.'"
Coming from teenagers, that attitude can be attributed to immaturity. But obviously, for some people, it's an attitude that sticks.
Not even Sen. Clinton can resist an easy gender joke. When assemblyman Fabian Núñez made a comment about a woman in the driver's seat during her press conference, she cleverly quipped:"And who would ask for directions?"
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