DENVER - After Senator Clinton's speech last night, some of her teary-eyed supporters may have wept because they felt they had missed a great opportunity to advance the cause of gender equality. In a limited way, this belief is correct. Having Barack Obama as the nominee will promote racial equality more than gender equality. And if he's elected president, it will be the greatest victory for human rights in America since the Emancipation Proclamation. But an Obama nomination and presidency would also, if to a lesser extent, promote Women's Rights and Gay Rights too.
Why? Both the Abolition and Civil Rights movements were of an inherently Liberal nature. The fundamental Liberal social principle - that a rational individual able to pursue his or her personal good will in turn bolster the common good - became a driving force for badly needed social change: people of all races are equally rational, and therefore equally capable of pursuing their own personal good. The Abolition and Civil Rights movements sought to create a society that understood that race should be no bar to freedom. Advocates for Women's Rights and Gay rights want to create a society in which gender and sexual orientation have a similarly non-existent relationship to personal freedom.
An Obama nomination and an Obama presidency will, among many other things, constitute a major triumph for racial equality in America. And such a victory will also represent a greater acceptance of the Liberal tenet of social organization that is at the core of all movements for social equality. So a victory for Obama is a victory for the way of thinking that believes every rational individual, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation, should have equal freedom to pursue his or her personal good. This would certainly still be true (though in different ways) if Obama were not black; Obama believes wholeheartedly in Gay Rights and Women's Rights as well as racial equality.
There are plenty of reasons to feel emotional about this campaign that have nothing to do with race or gender, but if those delegates crying at the Pepsi Center last night were crying because they felt they had missed an opportunity to promote gender equality, they should ponder these ideas, dry their eyes, and cast their symbolic votes for unity, change, and Barack.