Just How Bad Is The Double Standard In This Election?

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Just How Bad Is The Double Standard In This Election?

October 10, 2008 Politics 10

Is there a double standard at play in this election?  If so, what is the root of it?  And how bad is it?  I recently returned from a trip to different parts of the country, and I was astonished to hear some of the comments people made about Barack Obama.  These were educated people who I would expect to know better.  

It got me thinking, what if the tables were turned?  What if John McCain had Barack Obama’s resume, and Barack Obama had John McCain’s resume.   What would our perceptions of these candidates be under those circumstances?  

Well, apparently, some people have been thinking about this.  I recently received the result of their thought process in a couple of emails.  And I’m sharing them with you here.The first uses the frame of White Privilege, and is an article written by the author of a book titled White Like Me, Tim Wise


For those who still can’t grasp the concept of white privilege, or who are constantly looking for some easy-to-understand examples of it, perhaps this list will help.

White privilege is when you can get pregnant at seventeen like Bristol Palin and everyone is quick to insist that your life and that of your family is a personal matter, and that no one has a right to judge you or your parents, because “every family has challenges,” even as black and Latino families with similar “challenges” are regularly typified as irresponsible, pathological and arbiters of social decay.

White privilege is when you can call yourself a “f_ckin’ redneck,” like Bristol Palin’s boyfriend does, and talk about how if anyone messes with you, you’ll “kick their f_ckin’ ass,” and talk about how you like to “shoot sh_t” for fun, and still be viewed as a responsible, all-American boy (and a great son-in-law to be) rather than a thug.

White privilege is when you can attend four different colleges in six years like Sarah Palin did (one of which you basically failed out of, then returned to after making up some coursework at a community college), and no one questions your intelligence or commitment to achievement, whereas a person of color who did this would be viewed as unfit for college, and probably someone who only got in in the first place because of affirmative action.

White privilege is when you can claim that being mayor of a town smaller than most medium-sized colleges, and then Governor of a state with about the same number of people as the lower fifth of the island of Manhattan, makes you ready to potentially be president, and people don’t all p_ss on themselves with laughter, while being a black U.S. Senator, two-term state Senator, and constitutional law scholar, means you’re “untested.”

White privilege is being able to say that you support the words “under God” in the pledge of allegiance because “if it was good enough for the founding fathers, it’s good enough for me,” and not be immediately disqualified from holding office–since, after all, the pledge was written in the late 1800s and the “under God” part wasn’t added until the 1950s–while believing that reading accused criminals and terrorists their rights (because, ya know, the Constitution, which you used to teach at a prestigious law school requires it), is a dangerous and silly idea only supported by mushy liberals.

White privilege is being able to be a gun enthusiast and not make people immediately scared of you. White privilege is being able to have a husband who was a member of an extremist political party that wants your state to secede from the Union, and whose motto was “Alaska first,” and no one questions your patriotism or that of your family, while if you’re black and your spouse merely fails to come to a 9/11 memorial so she can be home with her kids on the first day of school, people immediately think she’s being disrespectful.

White privilege is being able to make fun of community organizers and the work they do–like, among other things, fight for the right of women to vote, or for civil rights, or the 8-hour workday, or an end to child labor–and people think you’re being pithy and tough, but if you merely question the experience of a small town mayor and 18-month governor with no foreign policy expertise beyond a class she took in college–you’re somehow being mean, or even sexist.

White privilege is being able to convince white women who don’t even agree with you on any substantive issue to vote for you and your running mate anyway, because all of a sudden your presence on the ticket has inspired confidence in these same white women, and made them give your party a “second look.”

White privilege is being able to fire people who didn’t support your political campaigns and not be accused of abusing your power or being a typical politician who engages in favoritism, while being black and merely knowing some folks from the old-line political machines in Chicago means you must be corrupt.

White privilege is being able to attend churches over the years whose pastors say that people who voted for John Kerry or merely criticize George W. Bush are going to hell, and that the U.S. is an explicitly Christian nation and the job of Christians is to bring Christian theological principles into government, and who bring in speakers who say the conflict in the Middle East is God’s punishment on Jews for rejecting Jesus, and everyone can still think you’re just a good church-going Christian, but if you’re black and friends with a black pastor who has noted (as have Colin Powell and the U.S. Department of Defense) that terrorist attacks are often the result of U.S. foreign policy and who talks about the history of racism and its effect on black people, you’re an extremist who probably hates America.

White privilege is not knowing what the Bush Doctrine is when asked by a reporter, and then people get angry at the reporter for asking you such a “trick question,” while being black and merely refusing to give one-word answers to the queries of Bill O’Reilly means you’re dodging the question, or trying to seem overly intellectual and nuanced.

White privilege is being able to claim your experience as a POW has anything at all to do with your fitness for president, while being black and experiencing racism is, as Sarah Palin has referred to it, a “light” burden.

And finally, white privilege is the only thing that could possibly allow someone to become president when he has voted with George W. Bush 90 percent of the time, even as unemployment is skyrocketing, people are losing their homes, inflation is rising, and the U.S. is increasingly isolated from world opinion, just because white voters aren’t sure about that whole “change” thing. Ya know, it’s just too vague and ill-defined, unlike, say, four more years of the same, which is very concrete and certain.

White privilege is, in short, the problem.


The second comes at the same issue but in a quick and dirty set of ‘What If’ questions.  The What If frame is an excellent persuasion frame for examining options and delivering presentations. 

What if John McCain were a former president of the Harvard Law Review?  And what if Barack Obama finished fifth from the bottom of his graduating class?

 What would you think about Obama?  What would you think about McCain? 

What if McCain were still married to the first woman he said “I do” to?  And what if Obama were the candidate who left his first wife after she no longer measured up to his standards?

What would you think about Obama?  What would you think about McCain? 

What if Michelle Obama were a wife who not only became addicted to pain killers, but acquired them illegally through her charitable organization? What if Cindy McCain graduated from Harvard?

What would you think about Obama?  What would you think about McCain? 

What if Obama were a member of the Keating-5? What if McCain had fund raising connections to Bill Ayers?

What would you think about Obama?  What would you think about McCain? 

What if Obama was a former prisoner of war?  What if McCain was a charismatic, eloquent speaker? 

What would you think about Obama?  What would you think about McCain? 

If these questions reflected reality, do you really believe the election numbers would be as close as they are?


According to the email sent to me, racism is the frame of reference that makes this double standard possible. Viewing these candidates through the lens of racism makes it possible to cover up, rationalize and minimize positive qualities in a candidate, while emphasizing negative qualities in that same candidate, while at the same time covering up, rationalizing and minimizing negative qualities in the other candidate, while emphasizing their positive qualities.  

The email goes on to pose this question:


You are The Boss… which team would you hire based on the resume alone?

With America facing historic debt, 2 wars, stumbling health care, a weakened dollar, all-time high prison population, mortgage crises, bank foreclosures, etc.

Educational Background:


Columbia University – B.A. Political Science with a Specialization in International Relations.

Harvard – Juris Doctor (J.D.) Magna Cum Laude



University of Delaware – B.A. in History and B.A. in Political Science.

Syracuse University College of Law – Juris Doctor (J.D.)





United States Naval Academy – Class rank: 894 of 899



Hawaii Pacific University – 1 semester

North Idaho College – 2 semesters – general study

University of Idaho – 2 semesters – journalism

Matanuska-Susitna College – 1 semester

University of Idaho – 3 semesters – B.A. in Journalism


Now, which team are you going to hire ?

Remove the double standard to see the facts in a new light.  What do you think of the double standards in this campaign?  (There have been a few others, right?)  Your comments are welcome!

be well



10 Responses

  1. David says:

    This is an excellent compilation of the double-standards that have been a part of this campaign from the beginning. Thank you for posting it.

    I have tried to see through these double standards since this campaign began, though at some point I simply stopped keeping track of them. I’d made my decision, and more evidence to support my view was unneccesary, but it is nice to see someone keeping tabs on the situation.

    The real problem here is two-fold. First of all, people don’t know the facts that simply are. How many people do you think know about Cindy McCain’s drug use problem? Not nearly as many as ought to. Second, people judge politicians as people, as opposed to physical manifestations of political ideology. While this is okay in many respects; after all, someone may have an ideology you agree with, but should they be corrupt, then it does not do you much good; judging someone as a person often crosses over into people’s pre-conceived notions of other people and groups. As such, extreme’s are reached, and what should be irreconcilable situations become rationalized beliefs.

    This is where double standards come about. There are three groups in the general populace as it relates to these types of double standards, the ignorant, the rationalizers, and those who understand them.
    The ignorant, as their name suggests, are ignorant of the facts, and thus do not believe there to be double standards. While I don’t often consider ignorance an excuse, it is at the very least understandable why those in this group act and believe the way they do.
    The rationalizers are those, who, as their arbitrary title suggests, rationalize the double standards away. Within this group there are two sub-groups. Those who rationalize with their ideology and conscience, and those who rationalize with their prejudices. The former is understandable, and is probably similar in some respects to me, provided the transgressions are not too great. The latter however, is an unfortunate product of some part of society, that can not overlook a certain feature of a person, despite the problems with the one they support.
    Those who fully understand the double standards fall in this final category, as they take into account ideology as well as transgressions and make a decision based upon the good and the bad of each. Thus they can make the most effective decision. One might question the two party system then, after all, if the candidate whose ideology you follow is corrupt, what choice do you have. However, the system has cleverly developed a check for this, albeit a sometimes ineffective one. The primary system is designed to solve this problem, as one can weigh the candidates on their side and choose the best choice from among them.

    But I digress.

    In the end, people don’t pay attention to each candidate in full, cherry-picking the best for the sake of rationalization, or in some cases simply making ignorant mistakes. Double standards are just a way of political life, unfortunately, one that we must both fight and live with.

    You can’t live with them, and you just can’t seem to get rid of them.
    Also, I would hire Obama. Much more impressive working resume outside the congress than McCain or Palin, or Biden for that matter.

  2. J.D. Meier says:

    How do you change the game?

    If you’re the frog in the pot, are you able to change the perception for yourself, or does it need to be external, such as through social proof? Who really sways the elections … the candidate or the media?

    I think Gary Klein teaches us that people make decisions emotionally, then justify them logically. It seems like a cognitive bias and a sort of pygmalian effect.

    I like the what if frame. Is is persuasive if you’re the frog, or does it need to be somebody else? (at work, we use a rule “argue the data” which means rather than argue yourself, champion the data.)

  3. J.D.,

    I think the frog can make the distinction in this case, but only if some cognitive dissonance rattles the pot.

    Meanwhile, I think candidates provide ballast for the ride the media take us on.

    Regarding people making decisions emotionally and justifying them logically, this is actually not merely someone’s teaching, it’s backed by science, and studies show it to have a basis in reality. I like that ‘argue the data’ idea.


  4. David, thanks for the comment and feedback! I like the three kinds of people using double standards, nice assessment.

    best wishes

  5. David says:

    I found another double standard for you, or technically, not a double standard, but rather one waiting to happen.

    In Palin’s convention speech she quoted Westbrook Pegler. In fact, the quote she used from him was the oft repeated small towns quote. “We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity.” What’s interesting is that this same person had made quotes on multiple occasions about how he wanted presidents to be shot. He commented on the failed assassination attempt on FDR in 1933 saying it was a shame the gunman hit the wrong guy, and said he hoped someone would shoot Bobby Kennedy.

    What makes this interesting of course is the fact that if Obama had quoted Ayers or Wright in his convention speech, you can bet cash money (I would) that Republicans would pounce on it.

    Like I said, this situation isn’t really a double standard, after all Obama did not quote Ayers or the like, so they can’t attack him while not checking themselves. However, I feel that if such a thing were to occur, the republican response would have double standard written all over it.

  6. Great example of how the double standard might be applied, David.

    I’d love to hear more examples, actually. If memory serves, this double standard business has been going on in politics for a long long time. And in this election, seems that almost everyone is trying to have it both ways.

    Here’s one: The Republican Party wants to get government out of people’s lives. Yet the Republican Party wants government to tell women that they must have a baby, even when a pregnancy is the result of incest or rape. And the Republican Leadership has made domestic spying a big part of their anti-terrorism program.

    What else can you find? (It’s like a game of Find Waldo…or Find Walden if you’re an Oregonian!)


  7. kate jackson says:


    Thanks so much for publishing these messages about racism in the Presidential campaign. White Privilege: the thought of all those white people acting as they do makes me embarrassed to be part of the same ethnic group. Thank heavens we don’t have to live as just a number among our own race/ethnicity! But people view those they know as tribe and ‘others’ as non-tribe, and thus a threat. Others will view us Caucasians, just from the outside, as part of that larger phobic group. That is one of the ways we ‘simplify’ the world around us as the overload of information presses on our brains, isn’t it?

    How can we instill the self-confidence in our children to grow up with more realistic, less divisive attitudes? Education for all, decent jobs and wages, travel experiences, positive messages in the family.

  8. Thank you Kate, for the wonderful comment.

    Something you wrote reminded me of something written by H.G. Wells:
    “Civilization is a race between education and catastrophe.”


  9. andrew says:

    how is it, we have a, double standard , unconcenitutional president, who has appointed 16 czar’s, in 5month,s, it took russia 600 years to introduce 22 czars, obama use’s to names, one to travel to country,s where u.s citzians are no welcomed, has no real birth certif, but claims he’s born in u.s.a., everything he is doing passing bill after bill. that seem , no! that is!! turning this country into a 3rd world, country, no tranperentcy on anything, a black hitler is what you voted for . depression is here, stocks will crash below 4000 by 10/09 , along with banks holiday, and a war, plus swine flu out break with no vaccine because there is no such thing as a vaccine for this flu , brewed in a lab to resist any and all, the 2nd round will be deadlest ever, double talk, obama with double standers , you loved every lie he was telling you, hope change, poeple ask him how but he never answered.

    • I had thought not to publish this comment, but then I came across a description of a syndrome shared by many people with this kind of view. They’re calling it Obama Derangement Syndrome, a virulent strain of obsessive presidential hatred that parallels a similar syndrome that many on the left exhibited during the Bush years. Symptoms include comparing the president to Hitler and ascribing to him every evil and unconstitutional intention imaginable. It is accompanied by the belief that such a partisan fever is patriotic.

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