Race and Feminism; America in the Eyes of the World

Article excerpt


While Americans are just getting ready for the presidential campaign with the two contenders receiving their party nominations, and while the race seen from here is extremely close, foreigners seem to think it is already over - with Democratic candidate Barack Obama the landslide winner. The encomiums in the foreign media have called Mr. Obama variously the black Kennedy, "the new Abraham Lincoln " the new Mandela " the new Dalai Lam "and even"Tony Blair of 11 years ago." Sen. Obama struck a strong chord overseas, even before he won the Democratic primaries because there are so few example of an ethnic minority reaching the highest pinnacle of government in other countries. Although the United States has never elevated a woman to the White House, much of the rest of the world has long been used to female presidents, prime ministers, empresses and monarchs.

Mr. Obama's novelty value is such that the foreign media immediately dropped Hillary Clinton like a sack of potatoes as soon as the primary season got under way. And there is not much chance that they will be impressed by Republican candidate John McCain's choice of a woman to share his ticket. Not only is Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin too conservative for many of America's critics - there is even a widely-shown video of her shooting a gun - but most foreign media invariably side with the Democratic contender. Recent favorites have included Bill Clinton, Al Gore and John Kerry - not to mention JFK, whom Mr. Obama is widely purported to resemble.

For many outside the United States, the idea of a female political leader is not nearly as exotic as it is for Americans. Foreign visitors to America often ask why this is so - usually with an undertone that this great country is at heart male chauvinist as well as racist (Both notions have taken a real blow in this election cycle.) Mrs. Clinton has spoken about finally breaking through the glass ceiling after the 18 million cracks she made in this hypothetical structure by winning so many votes in the Democratic primaries. But abroad, women leaders are far from a new phenomenon and the glass ceiling has been history for a long time.

Europe has had many strong female leaders, such as Elizabeth I of England, Queen Victoria and Catherine the Great of Russia, going back to times when monarchs really counted. …