The 2008 presidential campaign is barely underway, but already it has given us some interesting points to ponder about racial and gender biases and assumptions.

The New York Sun ran an article last week headlined “Stylists Interpret Messages of Senator Clinton’s Accoutrements,” analyzing the attire and accessories of presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Clinton and even the interior design of the room in her Washington, D.C. home where the web cast announcement of her candidacy was taped.

Granted, the article, which includes comments from stylists and interior designers, reads a bit tongue-in-cheek. But, as pointed out by The White House Project, you’d be a bit surprised to see one of these headlines:

Obama Announces Exploratory Committee in Powder Blue

Sen. Brownback Cuts Hair Prior to Formal Declaration

Richardson’s Suit Choice Reveals True Colors.

The White House Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing women in leadership, notes that Bill Richardson, who made his presidential announcement online, and Barack Obama, who also has an online video, have not been subjected to the same kind of scrutiny by the fashion police.

But visible women leaders cannot escape constant scrutiny of their appearance. During Congress’ first 100 hours, the New York Times devoted over 1400 words to the state of [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi’s fashion, and we doubt anyone’s forgotten those knee high boots that Condoleezza Rice sported in 2005 that one writer called an expression of “sex and power.”

The media frames the way the public views candidates, office-holders and issues. When writers report on a woman’s hair and hemlines, it is likely that the public is not getting the story that matters n like Pelosi’s agenda, the foreign leader Rice met with, or the issue that matters most to Clinton.

But, wait, maybe Barack Obama is getting it, too.

In an interview with The New York Observer Sen. Joe Biden, another newly announced 2008 presidential candidate, called Obama “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy” who has run for president.

Ouch.

Biden was backtracking, calling in to the radio talk show hosted by Rev. Al Sharpton, lavishing praise on Sharpton and other past African-American presidential contenders Rev. Jesse Jackson and former New York Rep. Shirley Chisholm.

But Biden’s apologies miss the point. The problem isn’t that he implied that Sharpton, Jackson and Chisholm weren’t “articulate” or “clean.” The problem is that Biden’s remarks reflect the sadly too-common assumption that it’s unusual for any African American to be articulate.

JODI CLEESATTLE

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