A political narrative

In the 2008 presidential election, we are electing narratives, not presidents.

She is the first female candidate for president. He is the first black candidate for president. Never mind Rep. Shirley Chisholm, a black woman that ran for president in 1972. Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are, as referred to in the media, the first legitimate candidates of their kind.

And, never mind that Clinton – a woman – was First Lady. Never mind that Obama – an African-American – was raised in a white culture by a white mother and white grandparents. Though these other characteristics should not define either candidate, neither should the titles of female candidate or black candidate that both have embraced as definitions for their campaigns.

Clinton is the woman who broke the glass ceiling. Obama is the black man who overcame racism. While these are both true, both candidates are so much more.

To be sure, Clinton and Obama are unique candidates. But perhaps they are not the candidates that the press reported them as and that both embraced for their campaigns. And as the press has fixated on these narratives – of the female candidate and the black candidate – the other candidates to be the presidential nominee for the Democratic Party fell to the wayside. Why else then did the candidacies of experienced senators such as Joe Biden and Chris Dodd gain no traction? Their narratives were simply tired.

At the beginning of the 2008 presidential campaign, a report by the Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy found that 63 percent of campaign stories reported in the news focused on political strategy while only 15 percent discussed the candidates’ ideas and proposals.

And most of the strategy discussed in the media was how a woman and a black man should run a campaign – not examinations of health care platforms or specific solutions to unemployment and the recession.

Now, not only are Clinton and Obama trying to prove who overcame more, but also who is more patriotic, who is more working-class, who can take down a shot of whiskey, who can bowl a better game and who is not elite. We are electing narratives, not presidents.