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Race and Ethnicity in the 2008 Presidential Contest at UC Berkeley: live blogging this…

When: March 19, 2008, 4:00 pm — 5:00 pm
Where: North Gate Library, Hearst at Euclid Avenue, Berkeley
Reception: 5:00 pm, North Gate Hall, Courtyard/Library

Join Boalt Law School Dean and civil rights expert Christopher Edley in conversation with Boalt lecturer and immigration policy expert Maria Echaveste on how race, ethnicity and immigration are playing out in the presidential race. Both Edley and Echaveste served in the administration of President Bill Clinton. Now he is an Obama adviser and she is working on the Clinton campaign. They also happen to be married to each other.

Echaveste and Edley will share their well-considered (but often conflicting) views on how Obama’s blackness has been covered, why Latinos favor Clinton so strongly, how immigration will be a factor in the general election, and whether this election is moving this country — and the press — beyond race or miring us deeper in outdated ways of viewing racial issues.

Event contact:
Tyche Hendricks

I. Covering issues of race, gender and identity

A.    Questions that have come up

II. Christopher Edley

I worked in the first Clinton term in the White House and in the course of that consultancy I met what’s her face. I have a high regard and loyalty to them. Barack is a former student of mine from Harvard Law School as was Elliott Spitzer. My reasons for supporting Obama not withstanding my affection for him is that while both are extremely intelligent I count Obama as one of the 3 most extraordinary intellects in public life, I put him in the same league as Bill Clinton  and Frankton. I have worked in a half-a-dozen presidential campaign so it’s a large sample again which I make this comparison.

Beyond being extremely intelligent comes his policy work. He has a capacity and a moral compass and of whom he is which was reflected in his speech last night. Even as a law student it set him apart as his peers. You have to be able to combine policy work with a strong moral compass, it’s crucial when tough issues comes to him. The third reason I support him is his capacity for values-based leadership and it’s more than his rhetorical skills.

It’s also important o have someone who has the leadership skills to move the American people with you and develop a different sense of the possibilities both for the legislative and executive branch. If you don’t have those skills then you are forced to do your politics within an envelope. I am confident that what Obama offers us is the ability to approach all the issues in a way that doesn’t take the current politics as a fixed, as a given, but creates something more dynamic.

The fact that he was African-American was a net minus to me. I chose him as a leap of, not faith, but as a leap of hope. You know I don’t think America is ready but I’m ready to invest some time to put into that hope.

As I told a New York Times reporter this is the season for hope.

Echaveste : Why I chose to support Hillary Clinton….but having Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama you have race and gender competing for our understanding. I chose Hillary because I have too close of an eye group of what it takes to be a president day to day. Watching the president have to deal with the number of issues that come at you really requires [she drops off]. Hillary is incredibly gifted at dealing with those things. What we are facing now, the consequences are just so huge. For the next generation it’s that important.

Talks about the Clinton fatigue, the Bush-Clinton dynasty…
I needed someone to roll up his or her sleeves and start working and to move the legislative process. I know her to be a caring, compassionate person and the person you can like.

The election is more of a personality competition and that’s part of the public’s decision to vote.

Both candidates are significantly better for our country. I am prepared to work and support for whoever the nominee is.

I know how Washington works and the demands of the president. You may think a president Obama may be able to persuade Congress to take certain actions, immediately they will pull at him. As someone who ran the President’s liaison, I know how that job is.  I would have wanted a little more of the testing of his ability to persuade other members of Congress to support them.

Hendricks: How do you read the Reverend’s speech?

Echaveste : This is the latest iteration on struggling with language to talk about race. The right situation was a teachable moment and [obama] used it. Whether the American public is ready to think about what he said is another question.

Edley:  I think the speech was phenomenal and it will go down as one of the most important and significant leaders in our generation. It might not soar because of its connection to Rev. Wright. He took these issues about Wright and said it’s about what Wright said, it’s about this bigger issue, it’s about who I am, who the country is and the original sin of this country. I say race is not rocket science. Race is harder than rocket science. Race is hundreds of years and we still screw it up. So to have a president like Clinton or a leader like Obama who recognize it and put their intelligence to work to grapple with it is just fabulous. He did not try to dance around Wright and reduce the damage. HE said the way I’m going to deal with this is to be forthright about who I am. It’s something that makes him feel “serene” and he puts it out for the public to decide.

there’s a certain redemptive quality to be liberal and forthcoming about it.

It will have proved to be a political plus because it was he. Do people feel comfortable with this person, his personality, and their qualities. People got a good glimpse of it yesterday.

Echaveste: How to you draw these experience questions without the race card coming up? How can I raise them without this coming up? Obama is naïve about this ability to work with Congress.

Christopher Edley: The question is when is the race card being played?

Race card being, using race in a way that triggers the ugliest of feelings we have about race and gender. Or it gets played to criticize. The test is not did the speaker intend to tap into or animate racial animus. I don’t think the test is purely one of intent. There’s something between an intent test and an extreme paranoia test. So where do you draw the line. The answer is we haven’t figured it out. This campaign is an opportunity for Maria and I to engage in that discussion about what you can and can’t say. It behooves us all to be extremely cautious. What  Bill Clinton said played into a familiar narrative of the incompetent black male the childish or immature black male, but yet he’s beating her in polls and he’s winning.  I admit that it’s a small percentage of the population that heard it that way, but I did.

I was deeply disappointed in him personally.

Tyche Hendricks: Reviews racial comments made.

Echaveste: How do I point out that being able to give a good speech isn’t the only thing being required of a president. It has to do with competence vs. idealism, pragmatism vs. idealism.

Christopher Edley:  I reject and denounce these dichotomies. What Geraldine Ferrara said, the impact of her words on political discource on the America public. I think the impact of her words was to say to a certain segment of her audience to say “for all those who are doubtful of Affirmative Action, watch out for this guy”….There is a list of things in this campaign and offenses that are pushing buttons. It’s important to create the context for these discussions.

Echaveste: The man is brilliant, but how do you have a discussion about the qualities and skills. There’s a zone of protection around Obama when it comes to race and there’s no similar zone of protection around Hillary when it comes to gender.

One of the hardest decisions for her to make is to go and be a political wife and it’s a highly personal decision to make and in both cases you have to believe that your set of skills and experiences are what the country needs. She had the name recognition because she was the first lady, but she was the most famous not-known person. Gender and gender-bias is much more subtle. It may be that she’s captive of a generation that says I’m not going to use my gender and how that can make me a much better elected official. But she didn’t do it. But how do you not use gender. For both of them in the remaining weeks of this campaign, part of who she is because she’s a woman and part of who Obama is is because of his gender, but that’s not the totality because we want people to be judged as individuals.

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