Annette Gordon-Reed says it was easier for Obama to win than it will be for Hillary

Historians in the News
tags: Hillary Clinton, election 2016, Obama



The historian Annette Gordon-Reed said recently that she thinks it was easier for a black man to win the presidency than it will be for a white woman.

It was Ms. Gordon-Reed’s research that erased any doubt that Thomas Jefferson was the father of the children of his slave Sally Hemings. Her magisterial book, “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family,” won the Pulitzer Prize for history in 2009 and made her the first African-American woman to win that prize. Of course, that was also the year Barack Obama became the first black president of the United States.

Ms. Gordon-Reed believes it was easier for Mr. Obama to become the first black president than it will be for Hillary Clinton to become the first female one. She said that she didn’t think when the book was published in 2008 “there was any doubt about who most black people were going to vote for. But the gender thing is different. You can never get women to vote as a monolith — this is a deep cultural thing.

“Black men got the vote before women, which caused great dissension. Feminists supported abolition, but didn’t get the vote.”

The data bears her out — white women are often the second or third group to break through the glass ceiling, usually after a black or Hispanic man has done it first.

For female candidates, she said: “If you’re too motherly that’s a problem, if you’re too young or sexual or pretty that’s a problem. Getting there, persuading people to love you, to trust you — how does a woman do that across a wide swath of the nation?” ...

Now Mrs. Clinton is pitted against Donald Trump, a candidate who has a record of insulting women. Her candidacy, Ms. Gordon-Reed says, “is a test of the character of the American people. She should not underestimate the power of the forces aligned with Trump. She should continue to run an inclusive campaign, tell people what she’s for and focus on the positive things rather than trying to out-negative him.”

Convincing people to vote out of optimism, rather than fear, she said, was what John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan were about, as was Bill Clinton in the 1990s.

“Jefferson said you should not try to change people’s beliefs about things, because it will harden them in their stance. You’re better off sticking to your story, and maybe, in the fullness of time, people will be persuaded.” ...




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