Battling It Out

Jim Downs says that the Democrats should blame history for the dilemma they face in having to choose between Clinton and Obama for this year’s presidential nomination.

In a crowded black church in Southern California in February 2008, President Bill Clinton announced, ‘I waited my whole life to vote for an African American for president. I waited my whole life to vote for a woman for president. And sometimes I look up at sky and say God you’re playing with my mind again.’ God may not be playing a trick on Clinton’s mind, but history seems to be.

Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, African Americans’ and women’s campaigns for equality often unfolded simultaneously, often relied on one another for support, and often resulted in asking who would be first to earn political recognition. That the 2008 Democratic presidential nominee will either be a woman or an African American is rooted in a history that can be traced to the decades leading up to the Civil War, when the movements for African Americans’ and for women’s equality both emerged.

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