How come Roland Burris has had such an easy time getting to the U.S. Senate while Caroline Kennedy has had such a hard time?
Could it be that the race card trumps the gender card in U.S. politics?
Well, yes. It could be.
Once supporters of Roland Burris made his appointment to the Senate all about race, the deal was done, though it took a few days for Senate leaders to wake up to the fact.
At a news conference in Chicago, Rep. Bobby Rush, who represents a district on the South Side of Chicago, said that the mere criticizing of Burris was akin to lynching.
Rush then went on to say: “I don’t think that anyone, any U.S. senator who is sitting right now, would want to go on record to deny one African-American from being seated in the U.S. Senate. I don’t think they want to go on record doing that.”
After Burris was turned away from the Senate when he tried to get seated last week, Rush went on “Hardball” and told Chris Matthews, “It reminded me of the dogs being sicced on children in Birmingham, Ala. That’s what it reminded me of.”
And that was that.
Those Democrats who had once opposed Burris for accepting a job from a governor who has been arrested for trying to sell the job caved. They were not going to try to stand up to the race card. Even Barack Obama caved, deciding that the whole brouhaha was something he did not need on the eve of his historic inauguration.
But if the appointment of Roland Burris proves anything, it proves that the election of Obama does not usher in an era of “post-racial” politics in America. Race is very much alive as an issue.
What about gender, however? Supporters of Hillary Clinton observed repeatedly during her presidential campaign that black men in America were legally given the vote before women were. Their point was that women were also an oppressed class and that the gender card was legitimate.
Though it hasn’t seemed to help Caroline Kennedy much. Here is a woman who is a lawyer and an author and who has a fine record of public service and is not tainted in the least. (We know she is not tainted because if any Kennedy gets tainted, we hear about it immediately.)
I am not saying Caroline Kennedy has lived a tough life. Quite the opposite. She has lived a privileged life. (Though having your father and uncle assassinated is not exactly an easy thing to live with or overcome.)
But one thing has always struck me about the Kennedy family: The women don’t get in trouble, but they also don’t get elected to higher office.
Caroline Kennedy’s cousin, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, was elected as lieutenant governor of Maryland but failed in her attempt to win the governorship in an overwhelmingly Democratic state.
Caroline Kennedy announced weeks ago that she would like to be appointed to fill Hillary Clinton’s seat. But unlike the racial arguments being made on behalf of Burris, the airwaves were not filled with anyone saying that a Senate seat held by one woman had to be filled by another woman.
True, the Senate already has women. In fact, women make up 17 percent of the Senate. But women make up 51 percent of the country and so you could argue that they are still seriously underrepresented in that body.
Sarah Palin recently complained that Caroline Kennedy was getting much easier treatment by the press than Palin had gotten, but in reality Kennedy has gotten a pretty vigorous going-over by reporters.
A better comparison for Palin to make would have been the patty-cake treatment Roland Burris has gotten from the press.
Where does Roland Burris stand on the fighting in Gaza?
Where does he stand on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?
How does he feel about Obama’s financial bailout plan?
In fact, where does Burris stand on any major issue?
Who knows? Let’s just seat the guy and get it over with!
Caroline Kennedy got asked serious questions abou serious issues, and some thought her answers were vague and inarticulate. Fair enough.
But how come she got asked them and Roland Burris did not?
In the end, Caroline Kennedy may get appointed to the Senate. But if she is, it won’t be because her supporters played the gender card.
And that’s because there is no such card to play.