The Jackie Robinson of Politics

05/25/2011 12:35 pm ET

It's hard for a man to compete against a woman. You can see it in the speech that Obama gave last night, he went right at McCain, in a way he never could have against Hillary Clinton, even though she was incredibly tough on him during the primary campaign.

A picture named robinson.jpgPolitical competition between men and women is like everything else between men and women. We defer to women, we are protective of women, and we won't stand for a man attacking a woman, even symbolically. And like everything else in gender relations, women have better PR, men almost never speak for their gender (I do, but it's rare). It's now finally become a matter for the highest level of political competition, and real competition betw men and women is taboo, you'll see that I will likely be attacked for stating an opinion. I've withheld it this long because I didn't want it to be tied up in the competition between Obama and Clinton, now it's clear that is over (one can hope) and we can see clearly the difference between it and the upcoming one between two men. The two contests will be very different, I think anyone can see that.

Oddly, the awkwardness of compeittion betw men and women disadvantages both, the woman is seen as not being serious, and the man is seen as being weak. Obviously because the man is not taking the woman seriously (by withholding serious competition) and the man is being weak.

Obama will continue to defer to Clinton, they'll maintain the traditional gender roles, but we'll forgive him if he doesn't pay her much attention from this point on. He has a battle to fight, one which more and more of us will want him to win, I predict.

Obama was the perfect candidate to compete with a woman for President, for the same reasons he's a perfect black candidate. His anger is supressed, the same way it was for Jackie Robinson. Obama is the Jackie Robinson of politics. In the same way the first black major league player had to soak up everyone's rage and express none of his own, no one votes for an angry black man, at least not yet (we will eventually) and anger expressed by a man for a woman is not tolerated either.

Put a note aside until the next Presidential election where there's a serious woman candidate, hopefully a visionary woman who understands this issue, and can communicate about it the way Obama was able to communicate about race. Let's create a level playing field, let's not tolerate sexism, in either direction -- and let both candidates be fully competitive. When a husband protests that his wife isn't being well-respected, as Bill Clinton did in this election, let's ask him to stand aside and let his wife fight her own battles. And let's not require one candidate to send flowers to the other, competitors only have to be gracious in defeat or victory, not while the fight is ongoing.