It was an astounding sight: African Americans swaying to music in their churches, weeping in Chicago, savoring the sweetness of victory, swarming outside the White House gates, overwhelmed by the significance of what has come to pass in America. As black, white, Hispanic and Asian, young and old, women and men stood together in Chicago shoulder to shoulder, cheering for their candidate, it seemed like racial prejudice was in its death throes and for a few moments, like all types of prejudice were in jeopardy.
But such a sense of triumph over prejudice may be premature, because other not so obvious biases were at play in this presidential election. Ageism is alive and well in America. Barack Obama’s youth and good looks trumped his inexperience and his insubstantial legislative record. John McCain’s age hurt him. His vigor belied his 72 years, but he couldn't captivate the imagination of America's young people.
America may be graying, but it loves youth, and it is a country where looks mean a lot. John McCain during his Vietnam years was a swashbuckler, the kind of man girls likely swooned over and men likely envied. If this younger McCain had run against Obama, the two would have been evenly matched and McCain would have been spared voter anxieties about his physical and mental state.
Strangely, it is John McCain who possesses the volatility and impetuosity of youth. President-elect Obama is a measured man. His approach to the electorate has been calculated, well planned and well executed. His speeches may be inspirational and flowery but his behavior and policy platform conform to the traditional positions of the Democratic Party. And Joe Biden for vice president was a safe pick.
McCain in Obama’s place would have exasperated his advisers by picking Hillary Clinton as his running mate. Can Barack Obama really be an agent of change when he has a bent for safe choices? The young and enamored don't seem to have wasted time on this question.
They don’t see that McCain is the real radical, not Obama. McCain’s senate record is testament to his independent thinking. But a majority of America's young couldn't see in McCain someone like themselves. They couldn't get past his gray hair to his youthful exuberance or his non conformism.
Considering 60 percent of America believed Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was inexperienced and unprepared to be president, the pundits expound that McCain compounded his age problem by picking her as his running mate. Somehow Obama’s inexperience did not matter as much to a lot of the electorate and the media, showing that, for at least a while, women will find it harder to sell their political wares to attain the top job in America.
Among the young racism may be on the wane, but ageism remains. Among the old racism may still be alive and well. We know sexism has been centuries in the making and won't go away soon. Human nature stands firmly between us and the "more perfect union" Barack Obama speaks of so passionately. And this may be a good thing. We may be bored to tears if we actually overcome all of our prejudices and arrive at this utopia of angels!
Usha Nellore is a writer living in Bel Air. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org