Geraldine Ferraro was previously best known as the first female VP candidate. Now she is gaining international notoriety for her comments about Barrack Obama.
Her comments were as follows:
“If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position 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.”
From a practical standpoint, this was not exactly the most prudent thing she could have said. Given her involvement in the Clinton campaign and her status in the Democratic party, such a remark does not help the Democrats.
But, what is not imprudent need not also be untrue. Before deciding whether the claim is true or not, what she said has to be sorted out somewhat.
In terms of the logic, she is making the following claims:
1. If Obama was a white man, then he would not be in the position he occupies.
2. If Obama were a woman (any color), then he would not be in the position he occupies.
What she is obviously claiming is that Obama occupies the position he does because he is both black and male. So, if he lacked those traits but was (presumably) otherwise the same (however that would work) then he would not be where he is now.
Testing this claim would be rather challenging because it involves speculation on what might be-always a matter fraught with peril. But, a reasonable assessment can be made in certain particular areas, such as voting behavior.
Suppose that Barrack was white. Would people still vote for him in the same numbers? Some pundits have suggested that people are voting for him simply because he is black. Obviously, being black is not sufficient to get such votes. If that were true, then any black person would have the same number of votes as Obama. This is clearly not the case. Just imagine, for example, if OJ Simpson declared his bid for the nomination. Other, more careful thinkers, have claimed that his being black, combined with his other qualities, is what has enabled his success.
I know that some people support him in part because he is black. This is because these people have made this claim and I infer they are not lying about this. Of course, I also know that some people are supporting Hillary because she is a woman and also because she is Bill’s wife. In the case of McCain, I know that some people support him because he is neither black nor a woman (nor Bill Clinton’s wife). But, few people are claiming that Hillary is only where she is because she is a woman and even fewer people claim McCain is where he is solely on being a white male (although some will consider this a relevant factor).
The important question is whether Obama being black is the primary causal factor in his being where he is now. In short, once all the other factors (personality, intelligence, drive, charisma, competence, ideas, etc.) are accounted for, will one primary factor remain-namely his being a black man (or perhaps that should be seen as two factors)?
On one hand, there is reason to think this. Obama is young (he’s about my age, so he is obviously a young guy), has limited experience in politics, and has only occupied one major office (senator). In comparison with most other serious candidates it can be argued that he falls short in the traditional standards. The three traditional standards he does meet are that he is male, tall, and has money. Hence, it might be concluded, his being a black is the primary causal factor. It could be further added that his being male is also a major factor since that is one of the traditional standards.
On the other hand, there are good reasons to think that Obama’s success is not primarily dependent on his color and gender. He is clearly intelligent, motivated, charismatic, persuasive, likable, principled and offers a new perspective in politics (one that is not still caught in the mentality of the 1960s). These factors are not dependent on race and gender. If these factors are the secret of his success, than Ferraro’s claim is mistaken.
Naturally enough, it might be wondered why she made such a claim. One possibility is that she is trying to help Hillary by attacking Obama. Another possibility is that she honestly thinks that he is not qualified for the job and hence is trying to protect America. Some have suggested that she is racist, but that seems unlikely given her background.