Opinion: Yes, Clinton’s female and Obama’s black. So what?

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There’s been an understandable focus on bias in this year’s race for the Democratic presidential nomination, with the two remaining contenders vying to become either the first woman or the first African American to head a major-party ticket for the White House.

Many who back Barack Obama are still angry at what they saw as former President Bill Clinton‘s efforts to minimize Obama’s victory in the South Carolina primary by comparing the Illinois senator with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who twice won the same primary (in 1984 and 1988) but never was considered a front-runner.

At the same time, supporters of Hillary Clinton have taken umbrage at reports and comments that focus on the New York senator’s hairstyle and clothing — in their view implying that because she is a woman, she should not be taken seriously as a potential president.

Those issues were addressed head-on ...

... on ‘Fox News Sunday’ by Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), who is supporting Obama, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who is backing Clinton.

‘We have two extremely, extraordinarily qualified candidates, and either one of them will make history as the first African American president or the first woman president of the United States. And both of them have faced discrimination in the course of their personal and political lives,’ Durbin told host Chris Wallace.


‘In terms of whether Sen. Clinton has faced some bias because she’s a woman, of course she has. All of us who have worked hard to bring women into politics — and Dianne knows this personally — know the struggle that they faced even with other women in convincing people of their fitness.

‘But secondly, understand that African Americans have also faced many, many burdens and obstacles, and Barack Obama has been facing that during the course of this campaign. Some of the rumors — and I know Dianne is well aware of them, we’ve talked about them on the Senate floor — about Sen. Obama are vicious and negative and totally false. And they are abounding across the Internet. Many of them leak into some of these reports and the like, these blogs, and even journalism that should be more discerning.’

For her part, Feinstein said flat-out that there is gender bias in the Democratic campaign:

‘I read a lot of newspapers. I read a lot of columns. I’m amazed at the number that are spent on really picayune things about Sen. Clinton — her hair, her suits,’ Feinstein said. ‘And I think some of this just drives toward the insecurity of having a woman running for this office. If anyone is qualified to run for this office, Chris, Sen. Clinton is — eight years in the White House. Sure, it’s first lady. I know that.

‘You know Hillary. You know her interest in policy. You know her care and concern about people. And most important right now, I think it’s the economy and her knowledge of what’s happened to the middle class in the last eight years and how you mend that and bring people up into becoming economically upwardly mobile.

‘That’s what we should be talking about, instead of — I read a lot of stuff which is really irrelevant to the kind of president she will be, and I think some of it is driven by the fact that it’s easy to hit at a woman.’

Clinton herself addressed the gender issue during a campaign appearance in Akron, Ohio, on Sunday afternoon, highlighting the support she has received from (male) generals, including retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, the former NATO commander.

‘I know we’ve never hired a woman for this job before, and I know for some people that’s still a question mark,’ she said, wrapping up her stump speech in a packed gymnasium at Garfield High School. But, she continued, ‘why would [the generals] be supporting me unless they had concluded that I was the best person for the job?’

— Leslie Hoffecker