Is it ever appropriate to disqualify an otherwise suitable political candidate on the basis of race alone?
That question ought to produce a resounding “No” from people of good will from every race and every party, but a perplexing case in Texas shows a prominent political operator dropping his once flourishing ambitions because he’s now convinced that he represents the wrong race and the wrong gender.
Matt Dowd played significant roles as a strategist for the Republican National Committee, the George W. Bush re-election campaign in 2004, and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s reelection campaign for California Governor in 2006. Becoming disillusioned with the Iraq War and other GOP policies of the era, Dowd made his way back to the Democratic identification with which he began his career as a college student in Missouri. After more than a decade as an on-air commentator for ABC and CBS TV, Dowd announced his candidacy, as a Democrat, for Lieutenant Governor of Texas in September of 2021.
This political adventure lasted less than three months before Dowd experience a guilty epiphany about his status as a white, straight, Christian, Anglo male, which excluded him from any of the favored victim groups championed in Woke consciousness. In a December 7th tweet, he announced: “Important news. I am ending my campaign for Lt. Governor of Texas. A diverse field is now emerging in the Democratic primary for this office. I do not want to be the one who stands in the way of the greater diversity we need in politics. Now that the race is emerging in a more diverse way, I have made the decision from a place of integrity to step back.”
With reasonable observers classifying the move as coming from a place of self-righteous stupidity rather than a “place of integrity,” Dowd and his supporters could point to a column he had written for ABC News three years earlier. “As a white male Christian in America, I am part of a dwindling subset that has held the levers of power politically and economically in nearly every field the entire history of the United States…We as white male Christians should do what real leadership demands and practice a level of humility that demonstrates strength by stepping back from the center of the room and begin to give up our seats at the table…Us white male Christians need to step back and give others room to lead.”
In other words, for Dowd, the most significant distinctions among political leaders aren’t based on ideology, character, conviction, or personal competence. They are differences in gender and skin color. His point of view would disqualify not only one particular (and failing) candidate, but any aspirant who shared the “white privilege” he now feels honor-bound to shed.
This isn’t noble or self-sacrificing; It is, rather, racist to the core – treating inherent racial markers as the most significant characteristic in evaluating candidates for top office in politics (and, presumably, in business), rather than a reform agenda, or a personal history of integrity or achievement. One of the aspects of European life that America’s founders emphatically rejected was the idea of granting power – in some cases absolute power – based on who your father was rather than who you are; anointing princelings born to the right clan rather than seeking self-made strivers who have won the confidence of the people they aim to serve.
There are times in American politics when candidates of extraordinary character and capability confront opponents with records of corruption and incompetence. Dowd implies that those distinctions should count for nothing. If the better candidate displays pale skin, male organs, and a conventional sexual orientation, he doesn’t deserve your vote because of the nation’s overriding requirement for greater diversity. Dowd would disqualify the more able contender because of an utterly sensible (and clearly commendable) refusal to “step back” in favor of a less appropriate aspirant with a more suitable complexion.
Fortunately, recent events have demonstrated that most Americans have already moved on beyond Dowd’s narrow-minded race-is-everything convictions. Barack Obama won twice, not just because he rallied record numbers of Black and Latino voters, but because he performed notably better among white voters (still a commanding majority) than either the Democratic nominee who preceded him (John Kerry) or the one who followed him (Hillary Clinton).
Finally, the most shocking aspect of Dowd’s race obsession is his unquestioned assumption that the “levers of power”, the “center of the room” and “the seats at the table” are all strictly limited – that to make room for new faces others must give up their own constructive role. This ignores one of the key lessons of our national history – that we have constantly built bigger tables, with more seats, and expanded the scope of our democracy by enlarging the number of responsible decision-makers. The Jacksonian era of the 1830s and ’40s largely eliminated the requirements of property ownership as a condition for voting, vastly increasing the number of voters in virtually every state. A hundred years ago, by authorizing women’s suffrage as part of the Constitution, reformist politicians literally doubled the size of the electorate. Looking back at the relentless march toward democratization, it is positively un-American for Dowd to suggest that the only real power exists in sealed rooms with limited numbers of chairs, rather than recognizing and encouraging the ever-broader participation that Democracy demands.
On the eve of the Christmas holiday and with hopes for a brighter, better new year, Americans yearn for both personal and national improvement. In particular, there’s an obvious, unmistakable longing to diminish the poisonous, polarizing role of racism in our nation’s past and future. Progress on that front requires a better understanding of what racism is – and what it isn’t. To favor any ethnic group over another based solely on membership in that group doesn’t challenge racism, it perpetuates it. Though race-obsessed posers like Matthew Dowd claim to champion fairness, they actually embrace the hideous mistake that has fueled more repression and inequality in American history than any other: the idiotic idea that skin color, gender, or religious faith should be the basis for judging political leaders or any other significant decision in life.