Sharing Outsider Status and a Style of Coping

Sharing Outsider Status and a Style of Coping

The New York Times

Jodi Kantor

The United States quietly passed a milestone this spring, mostly lost amid the clamor of the presidential race: for the first time, neither party’s candidate is a white Protestant. The contenders are both from outsider groups that were once persecuted, and despite Harvard degrees and notable successes, both men have felt the sting of being treated as somehow strange or different.

The campaigns have mostly been in a state of détente on identity politics, trying to avoid mutually assured destruction. But the outsider backgrounds of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have marked the race in subtler ways, shaping the candidates and campaigns, causing them to mirror each other in many ways.

Both sides face the specter of longstanding prejudices that no ad, slogan or speech may be able to dispel. In a Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey conducted last week, 27 percent of those polled said that having a Mormon president raised concerns for them or someone they know, and 12 percent said the same for a black president. Some voters say outright that they will not vote for Mr. Obama because he is black; others make jokes about Mr. Romney belonging to a cult…

…There are also parallels between the two candidates themselves, like their elliptical language: In a speech at Liberty University this month, Mr. Romney talked about his faith without ever saying “Mormon.” Weighing in on the racially fraught Trayvon Martin case, the president never used the word “black,” instead saying, indirectly but with clear feeling, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”…

…Their approaches are safe but also somewhat obscuring. Being the first black president is one of the richest, most singular veins of Mr. Obama’s experience, but he almost never lets the country know what it is like. Mr. Romney has called being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints one of his chief influences, and yet he does not reveal whatever emotion, lessons or moral force he derives from faith. Neither man is a voluble, heart-on-sleeve politician to begin with, and refusing to discuss central aspects of their identities can make each seem yet more remote…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , ,