The 2008 election in the United States was pretty groundbreaking, and not just because it ended with the election of the country’s first Black President. It wasn’t just the first election where people of colour were serious Presidential candidates, it was also an election where multiple women were considered viable contenders. Hillary Clinton may not have made it through the primaries, but she definitely blazed a trail, and Sarah Palin, for all the myriad problems with the McCain/Palin campaign, did make some important steps for women in politics (alas, not all those steps were in a forward direction).
Which means that I think we’re going to see a shift in 2012. We’re going to see changes in rhetoric and approaches to the campaign for the Presidency. It’s pretty much a given that the Democrats will be presenting an Obama/Biden ticket, all things considered, but the Republican field is very much open, and while it is dominated by old white men, 2008 created a crack, a chink in the armor. Why should we accept a uniformly white and male ticket? Why should we expect that all political candidates should be older men? Why shouldn’t we expect more? 2008 showed us what was possible, in some ways.
There’s been a small uprising within the Republican party; no, I’m not talking about the tea party, but the increasing restlessness of women in the party who are less interested in playing roles as arm candy at political events, and more interested in plunging directly into politics. Many of these women are savvy, they’re good politicians, and they have tremendous potential. If the party sets them loose, we may see a very, very interesting race in 2012.
Of course, the smaller political parties in the United States have a long record of mounting minority candidates on their Presidential tickets, and unfortunately those tickets, and their platforms, are usually widely ignored. People talked about Hillary Clinton like she was the first woman to seriously try and run for President, when in fact plenty of women have mounted Presidential campaigns, they just didn’t stand a realistic chance because of the way the political system in the United States is structured. Likewise, Barack Obama was not the first man of colour to run for President.
It’s not that 2012 will see people suddenly paying attention to minority platforms, because we all know that’s going to happen. But it does mean that political rhetoric is going to have to consider 2008, in both good and bad ways. The mounting conservative attack on the United States reflects, I think, a lot of fears from 2008. Fear of minorities rising to positions of power. Fear of women, people of colour, and nonwhite people being considered equal to white men. Fear of what might happen if the general public sees people from more diverse backgrounds in positions of authority.
As conservatives attack civil rights, working especially hard to erode rights minorities have viciously fought for, they reflect their own worries about 2008, when they put a woman on the Presidential hot seat and lost. The cynicism of the Palin selection backfired for them in a major way, and they’re busy spinning away as they prepare to attempt to retake the White House. Will we see another woman on the ticket? Perhaps one of the tea party stars Palin has carefully groomed, or Palin herself, again? I think we certainly will see more women active in the Republican primaries, that’s for sure.
The Republicans are also hard at work on the Latina/o vote, although how they expect to win that vote while promoting racist social policies is, I confess, a bit puzzling. Both parties are recognising, in a major way, the power that the Latina/o vote has, and seem to be thinking that maybe it’s time they started paying attention. Could we, perhaps, see a prominent conservative Latino on the ticket, or a Latina candidate representing the conservatives? I think it’s certainly possible, and it would be a shrewd political move for conservatives. They are nothing if not good at working the political system, as I think everyone has learned in recent months if they did not know already.
Savvy voters know to watch for dogwhistles, but those dogwhistles are going to shift. There are new codewords and new ways of implying things without saying them. On the flip side, some political rhetoric once shrouded in dogwhistles is emerging into the open. Conservatives are more blatantly racist, are more vehemently against reproductive rights, and seem less afraid of letting the whole world know about this, at least in some political districts. I think it’s safe to say that these more outspoken members of the movement will not be making into the primaries, or staying there for very long, because the RNC knows it needs the moderate vote; people who prefer their racism cloaked in euphemisms so it is easier to swallow, say.
2012 is going to be a year of interesting undercurrents, not just surface waves. It may be a year where we see the art of saying one thing and meaning something completely different raised to an art form on both sides. President Obama is already a powerful orator and brilliant speechwriter with especially well-developed skills in the arena of making a lot of words but saying absolutely nothing, and certainly not promising anything. I suspect we’re going to see more of the same; more beautiful speeches, more words that slip through your fingers like water when you grasp them, and it will be interesting to examine the oil slick left behind.