A Brave New World?

Official photographic portrait of US President...

Last Word: A Brave New World?

Lexpert, January 2009

By Marzena Czarnecka

The US has a black—pardon me, African American—president, and one of my university classmates owes me $100 on a bet we made back in the day when he argued that our neigbours down South would elect a (white) woman president long before bringing themselves to vote for someone with pigment in their skin. I disagreed, maintaining that despite superficial appearances to the contrary, most First World countries, the US and Canada among them, are even more sexist than they are racist—particularly in politics and certain, pointing no fingers, professions—and we’d see a black man at the helm of the world’s most powerful nation long before we’d see a white woman there.

So I call my classmate to collect—“Hey, we haven’t spoken in 10 years, but dude, you owe me 100 bucks”—and he counters by throwing my own words back in my face, notably, that I said “we’d see a black man at the helm of the world’s most powerful nation long before we’d see a white woman there,” key words being “the world’s most powerful nation,” for which tag the U.S. of A. no longer qualifies.

“Bloody lawyers,” I mutter, grinding the enamel off my teeth, as I envision the smug, self-satisfied grin he must be wearing on the other side of the telephone connection. He’s a clever SOB, and presses his advantage with nothing but silence. He awaits my move.

The hamster in the wheel that powers my brain is perfectly still. Because he’s right. Back in the early 1990s when we had made our bet, our Southern neighbour had fairly recently defeated, so to speak, what Ronald Reagan called the Evil Empire. The Soviet/Russian economy lay in shambles, and had no muscles to flex. China was slumbering. Most Americans (or, for that matter, Canadians) couldn’t find India on the map. They’d be hard-pressed to tell you what language was spoken in Brazil (not Spanish). There was one world superpower, and its name was America.

Man, was that ever a short reign.

(And what a way to squander such power and influence.)

I don’t pretend to understand American politics—now, Canadian politics, those be a piece of frosted cake—but, as the hamster starts moving again, ever slowly, I start to wonder. Back when Brian Mulroney was the most hated Canadian prime minister ever, Preston Manning was the darling of the divided right, and the Progressive Conservatives knew they were going to get hammered in the next election, they chose a female leader. Poor Kim Campbell lost the election, as everyone knew she would, and promptly resigned. The PCs got the satisfaction of being able to claim to be the first Canadian party to elect a woman leader without the old boys actually having to cope to being led by one for very long. Too cynical? I dunno… if I were an old boy, that’s probably the way I would think.

(But then, I’m not a really nice person. And lots of old boys are—or at least think they are. Can one be a closet sexist or racist and be a nice person? Hmmm….)

Back to the new ruler of the world’s formerly most powerful nation. To get there, he first had to beat out a field of Democratic candidates that included a powerful, outspoken, experienced and absolutely threatening (to old boys, and new boys too) woman. (For the record, I’m not a fan of the Clinton clan, male or female—I mean, if I had to, I’d take them over the Bush clan, but crikey, isn’t a big point of democratically elected governments that they are not hereditary?) That there are gender issues galore in the way Madame Clinton has been portrayed in the media is undeniable. A classic example, in many ways, of attributes that are positive in a male becoming demonized in a female. But I digress. That fight’s over, and it’s been lost, for the time being.

Then, he faced a really, really, really old white man and the type of woman, also white, the old boys like to have around. He won. And, my cynical tendencies aside, I am thrilled—an intelligent, articulate (man, who is this guy’s speech writer and does he need an apprentice?) Democratic, African American and young president.

But—one who’s inheriting a mess. And it won’t be long before his electorate forgets that it wasn’t he and his who created it… Will they actually give him a chance to perform? Or will he be a straw man, built up in a time of economic panic and global angst, to be knocked down before he has a chance to really construct anything worthwhile, sending the power back to the old boys?

I know precisely what would happen to him if he was, instead of a president (The President?), a mere managing partner of a law firm, handed the mandate to govern the firm when it found itself bleeding money, talent and clients, as a result of either decisions made by the old boys, or simply circumstances beyond anyone’s control.

And it wouldn’t be pretty.

Let’s hope the American electorate is capable of taking a longer term view than the average partnership of a Canadian law firm.

Marzena Czarnecka is a Calgary-based freelance writer, currently mired in doom and gloom that has nothing to do with the price of oil. Honestly.

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