Why being first may not be much

Sam Smith – A recent Gallup poll finds Americans think the most positive thing about a Hillary Clinton presidency would be her serving as the nation’s first female president. But then they felt the same way about Barack Obama being the first black president and things haven’t quite worked out as well as expected.

I suspect that Jackie Robinson made us unduly optimistic about such matters, for, in fact, being first in no way guarantees that one will be best, or even good.

For example, if you truly believe in equality amongst ethnicities and genders then one has to assume that saints and sinners will be equitably distributed within such categories, in which case the first at the gate may only be a successful hustler rather than an admirable role model.

Of course, it can be argued that, at least, being first opens the gate for others of a similar ilk, but it doesn’t always work that way. For example, a new black candidate for president would undoubtedly have to spend considerable time explaining why he or she was different than Barack Obama.

It was fascinating, in the Obama instance, how the first at the gate mythology overwhelmed his actual story, such as his lack of significant achievement, his promotion by the anti-liberal Democracy Leadership Council, and the fact that the only election he had lost was to another black man, a former member of SNCC and the Black Panthers. Bobby Rush, who has represented his congressional district for over 20 years, described his opponent this way: “Barack Obama went to Harvard and became an educated fool. Barack is a person who read about the civil-rights protests and thinks he knows all about it.” Obama got only 30% of the vote, relying heavily on whites in Hyde Park.

But none of this was talked about in his presidential effort. Portrayed as an heir of Martin Luther King come finally to the voting booth, he was in fact a run of the mill manipulator of favorable circumstances.

Furthermore, the record since then shows that breaking glass ceilings doesn’t necessarily meaning opening more doors. The unemployment rate for blacks, for example, has moved down only slightly since Obama took office. And the poverty rate for blacks has gone up.

Hillary Clinton’s inconsistent story is even more dramatic. Not only is she extraordinarily thin on achievements (other than promoting herself), her past is hardly one around which to celebrate gender liberation. With three of her business partners gone to prison, five of her major funders convicted of – or pleading guilty to – crimes, a compliant six years on the board of the anti-woman, anti-union Wal Mart, the subject of a number of serious and potentially criminal investigations, and a record far more in tune with the corrupt culture of Arkansas than with dreams of a new America, there is little reason she would even be considered for the job if she were a man.  Add to the fact, that if elected, she would be matched only by Richard Nixon and her husband in her shady past, it hardly seems the best way to enter a new era.

But we live in a time in which fantasy has overwhelmed reality. We consider Crimea more important than climate, fame more important than achievement, words more important than action, and power more important than integrity  – and something for the media to celebrate rather than question.

We no longer do anything as wise and simple as happened with Jackie Robinson before choosing him as  the first of something new: check his batting record.

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