Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Reflective Politics in an Election of Firsts

By Micah Dillard, Summer Intern at the Kirwan Institute

We as Americans are natural consumers. We strive to find the best deals or hottest new gadgets that will be outdated in two months, but we are also political consumers. Despite the fact that we have a primarily two party system, we generally tend to have several possible choices for the presidency. This “choice” has not been more evident than in this presidential election where we had more than just conservatives and liberals but also an African American, a woman, a Mormon, and a Latino. It is shallow to pick the next president of United States based on his or her race, gender, or religious affiliation but we must respect the urge that we want someone that reflects an aspect of ourselves to be president or even vice president.

This urge to want a politician to reflect not only your values, but also certain aspects of yourself is not new. This dynamic has been a part of the American political landscape since the inception of the American political landscape. The most recent examples of this are the elections of former President William J. Clinton and current President George W. Bush in 2000. Both were perceived to have the so-called “everyman” quality that reminds a segment of the American population of either themselves or friends that makes them want to vote for them. A common phase during the 2000 election was that current President Bush seemed like a modern-day cowboy who would reform Washington after the Lewinsky scandal. It seems to make us comfortable making a choice that could decide the course of the nation.

In this election of firsts, we have the first person of color seriously vying for the presidency of the United States. This concept of reflective politics comes into play again because Sen. Obama has the support of more than 90% of the African American community, 66% of Latino voters, and has an abundance of support in the female community (data provided by The Politico). He seems to be a candidate that is using the “true everyman” strategy to appeal to a diverse group of people because of his diverse origins. However, his strength is also his greatest weakness because by being this “everyman” he automatically turns off a segment of the population who do not connect with him politically and personally. It is not currently on the scale of Sen. John Kerry in 2004 and the claims of elitism against him. In summation, we as Americans must understand that we seek politicians that not only represent us politically, but also reflect an aspect of ourselves.

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