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Seneca Falls and All That: Race and Gender in American Politic

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Election 2008 is moving quickly into its second act. Character, setting, conflict – all have all been introduced to a dollar-wary, war-weary audience.

By the end of act one, Super Tuesday, the candidates and the media had -- with plenty of notable exceptions -- managed to focus largely on issues, not personalities.

The Republican Party had opened its version of Election 2008 with a cast of white male characters. Over the ensuing months, the players dwindled. Now, one white male remains on the Republican stage.

Republicans have plenty to feud over, but issues of race and gender will not figure in this middle-right drama. McCain. White. Male. Period. Possible challengers? White, male, and waiting in the wings.

In contrast, the Democratic theater is buzzing with a unique, exciting, and unpredictable energy. America has never before anticipated the inauguration of a black or female President. Change is in the air…or so it seems.

Both Hillary and Barack provide stunning foils to the Bush disaster. Despite a shared pile of corporate baggage and the loss of John Edwards' populism, both candidates honor the plight of struggling Americans, an embattled and vengeful Middle East, an economy begging for anti-depressants, and a melting planet.

Most Americans see -- and feel, first-hand -- the need for change. In recent primaries and caucuses, voters flowed to the polls in record numbers, intent on being heard. But as Election 2008 unfolds, it appears that critical issues may not make up the only plot lines in the Democratic drama.

Few American voters would publicly acknowledge that race or gender influenced their decisions in the voting booth. However, exit polls from Super Tuesday’s act one primaries suggest that race and gender may be playing a role in the upcoming election:

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+ Among women voters, Hillary Clinton won over Barack Obama, 51 percent to 45 percent.

+ Barack Obama was the favorite among male voters, 53 percent to 42 percent.

+ White voters (male and female) chose Clinton over Obama 52 percent to 43 percent.

+ Black voters (male and female) chose Obama over Clinton 82 to 16 percent. Hispanics and Asian-Americans leaned toward Clinton – or was it away from Obama?

If race and gender do take the stage in Election 2008, how will they interact? Will they play bit parts? Or will they tear into one another as antagonists? An earlier epic in American history provides background for the upcoming scenario.
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Suffrage at Seneca Falls
In the early 19th century, Great Britain considered itself a leader in the abolition of slavery. They had a right to crow. In 1807, well ahead of other colonial nations, the Brits outlawed slave trade on British vessels, in the British Isles, and in its colonies.

The British were not alone in their abolitionist zeal. In the robust egalitarian (in concept, at least) environment of 1830s and ’40s America, anti-slavery societies took root and flourished. Many of these early abolitionist groups included female members.

In keeping with this egalitarian tone, American abolitionists elected several women as delegates to attend the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention, a ground-breaking international abolitionist conference to be held in London.

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Charles Degelman is a writer and editor living in Los Angeles. Published titles include books, periodicals, and Internet resources on U.S. and world history and on contemporary issues including the environment, the war in Iraq, healthcare, the (more...)

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