Denver Bar Association
October 2008
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Picking Favorites, Not Issues

by Becky Bye

More than before, the 2008 election is about identity. Notwithstanding a few divisive issues, realistically, elections are truly about the person running for president. Besides it being a very expensive and often nasty popularity contest, the presidential election is more about who Americans want as a symbolic representative of our entire country.

As a first-generation American, born to two immigrant parents from Ukraine, I have always respected the country that willingly and with open arms allowed my family to prosper as eventual American citizens. Even though my parents and extended family were not born American, they identified themselves as Americans and felt it was their duty to be fully informed of and involved in our democracy.

My grandfather was my hero; he was a man who gave up his successful medical practice in the Ukraine to seek a better life for his family and for future generations from his lifeline. As early as five years old, I remember sitting with my grandfather to watch "Meet the Press" instead of riding bikes outside with the other kids. Though his ancestry was Jewish and Ukrainian, and he was substantially more comfortable speaking his native Russian language than English in the United States, his primary political and social interests were firmly rooted in his new country, his new home.

The notion of "identity" provides the foundation for our country’s history and politics. In the 1700s, our Founding Fathers determined that we were not part of England’s identity. They formed a separate country with a separate constitution. Through the Constitution, our Founding Fathers articulated that individuality epitomized democracy and freedom, which is why they made deliberate references to freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and an implied right to privacy as fundamental, inalienable rights.

Essentially, our Founding Fathers established our rights to be unique and different individuals.

As Americans with different identities, it is expected that no single presidential candidate is perfect for our country, a country whose citizens consist of a multitude of nationalities, religious beliefs, experiences, and socioeconomic circumstances. Naturally, this results in different perspectives regarding the future of our country. My esteemed colleague, Mr. McQuiston, in his September article, advocated for you to choose a presidential candidate whose goals and perspectives on issues mimic your own, and, ultimately, he implies that John McCain is his preference (although I do have to commend him on his attempts to be nonpartisan in his analysis).

When most people think about Barack Obama, they think of a candidate who diverges viscerally and socially from the stereotypical American president and politician (i.e., older, white, male). Although Obama is half-Caucasian and half-African-American, he significantly chooses to identify himself as an African-American. Barack and Michelle Obama rarely leave a speech without mentioning their semi-rags-to-Ivy League-to-riches story for a reason. They understand the importance of identity to voting Americans, in addition to the issues.

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Barack Obama, although not perfect in his own right, is the candidate that I feel understands my situation more than McCain.

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Similar to Obama, McCain understands that he must determine how to identify with potential voters. Unlike Obama, McCain inherited his family’s military legacy and enrolled in the Naval Academy where he eventually became an undisputed war hero. He was lucky enough to find a second wife that was not only a beauty, but educated and an extremely wealthy heir to a $100 million fortune made on beer, a typical American product. McCain, no doubt, is a lucky and privileged American; so lucky and privileged, in fact, that a majority of voters who can actually count the number of houses they own (or own no houses at all), cannot relate to him. We do not share his perspective on the issues because his reality is far from the reality of most American people.

McCain is also smart enough to understand that many Americans, primarily swing voters and Americans with fewer than seven houses may not vote for him because they do not see him as an adequate representative for their voice and the collective voice of America. Consequently, McCain made the brilliant choice of choosing a young self-made and hardworking woman as his running mate.

While I admire Governor Palin for her success and intelligence, McCain’s choice in running mate is too hypocritical for my taste. In his pre-Palin campaigning days, McCain touted his years of political experience and service as the reasons voters needed to choose McCain over Obama. Now, his running mate encompasses all the qualities that he argued were unsatisfactory in a running mate or president. Amid more qualified candidates, such as Joe Lieberman or Mitt Romney, McCain chose Sarah Palin because she is a woman from a middle-class family, with which many Americans can identify.

McCain realizes that this election is more about race and gender than it has ever been in the past — when voters had to choose from one privileged white male over another. At the same time, Obama understands that much of this race is also about identification with American voters. Accordingly, Obama chose Senator Joe Biden as his running mate, a VP candidate similar to McCain in many ways. Biden "looks" like presidents and vice presidents of America’s past, he has much experience as a politician in Washington D.C. and his knowledge on foreign affairs rivals that of McCain.

Gender, race and age, as forms of identity, are socially constructed phenomena. Each aspect is not only interpreted differently across cultures and backgrounds, but also leads to differing perspectives when combined with different experiences of life. Although physical differences can influence ideological differences, the differences among these various forms of physical identification are endless in a social and political context.

As a young woman, born to immigrant parents, Jewish but agnostic, educated, and of a particular economic class, my political beliefs are unique to me. Unfortunately, no particular candidate in this election shares my exact past and perspective.

As much as I look forward to the day that an American woman breaks through the still-existent glass ceiling in politics to become president or vice-president, I will not vote for McCain just because he chose a female running mate. I appreciate the gesture, but I am not stupid. Most voting Americans are well-informed and intelligent and understand that McCain clearly is attempting to ensnare specific social groups for support.

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...this election is more about race and gender than it has ever been in the past--whenvoters had to choose from one privileged white male over another.

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I am more than just a female who wants to see a woman leading the country. I am a voter with a unique background, who wants to see the right candidate leading our country and representing my voice. Barack Obama, although not perfect in his own right, understands my situation more than McCain. As a person with a distinct multi-cultural background, who grew up feeling different from other Americans in Hawaii and the continental U.S., and who worked hard in school to follow his dream of professional success, Obama’s experience and perspectives align more with mine than McCain’s. Consequently, because I identify with Obama, my positions on the fundamental issues are closer to his than to those of McCain.

McCain’s identity is tied to one of the biggest proponents of deregulation of markets, his economic advisor Phil Gramm. This focus on lobbyists and Wall Street, not Main Street, is why McCain repeatedly said, as recently as Sept. 15, that the economy is fundamentally sound.

Not blinded by special interests, as the only candidate who isn’t funded by lobbyists, Obama and his economic advisors already outlined a six-point economic plan, with fair regulations for the modern economy. And he’s already outlined ways to create millions of sustainable, good-paying jobs in alternative energy sectors and infrastructure rebuilding.

Regarding health care, Obama won’t just throw public money at a broken privatized system, as McCain’s tax credits propose. Obama’s national health plan is similar to the one Congress uses.

Obama will prune bureaucratic spending. He will close corporate tax loopholes and let George Bush’s tax cuts expire in 2010. Obama’s tax cuts will help 95 percent of Americans who make less than $250,000 per household. He is the only candidate touting equal pay, and support for companies that do not export jobs.

There is no question that Obama is the best candidate to restore our identity as a nation, as he is the only one to publicly recognize the extent of a legacy squandered. Inherently, reaching out to people with different backgrounds is a skill he’s built all his life.

No formula exists to determine how to select the next president of our country. However, I submit that it is less about the issues, and more about the identity of the candidate. When deciphering between the candidates, their running mates, and the future of our country, I suggest you choose the candidate that best reflects your own American voice and your distinctive identity.

This article was solely written by and reflects the personal views of Becky Bye, in her individual capacity. It does not necessarily represent the views of her employer or her clients, and is not sponsored or endorsed by them in any way.

This article was written after a post-DNC panel discussion titled, "Race in the Race," hosted by the University of Denver Sturm College of Law on Aug. 29. Panelists from around the country included Prof. Raquel Aldana, Prof. Reginald Oh, Prof. Camille Nelson and Prof. Catherine Smith, and the panel was moderated by Monica Bell. Many of my assertions and opinions are a reflection of and reaction to the author’s attendance at this event.


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