I didn’t take the news of Al Gore’s defeat too well back in 2000, and I was only 13 years old at the time. I could have cared less about John Kerry. But what if Obama – the canvas of so much political emotion, the projection of so many overwrought hopes and fears – ultimately falls to John McCain?

Now that we’re revisiting the racial politics of the past five decades against the backdrop of a 21st century presidential election, what would an Obama defeat tell us about America? Is Obama too black, or is he simply too liberal? He wouldn’t be the first Democratic nominee to lose an election on an elitism charge, to be sure. In 1988, after having anointed George H.W. Bush – a Kennebunkport trust fund – to succeed Ronald Reagan, the Republicans managed to tar Michael Dukakis, the son of Greek immigrants, as the effete prince. What’s new?

Dukakis was an imperfect candidate, to be sure. His campaign was often as tin-eared and politically tone deaf as he was. Dukakis emerged from the Democratic Convention with a double-digit lead in the polls, and he hemorrhaged his way into a landslide defeat. The Republicans cast him as a cold and distant technocrat, and Dukakis consistently failed to rebuff the caricature. He was an ineffectual candidate, and he probably deserved to lose.

But the Obama-Dukakis parallel runs still a bit deeper than this. After all, Michael Dukakis was different. He had foreign parents and a foreign name. Michael Dukakis was un-American, or so they had us believe. George Bush ate pork rinds and pretended to live in Texas; Dukakis wasn’t “one of us.” George Bush was a snob, just like his son, but he was a WASP, and Dukakis was not.

So now we have Barack Obama, two decades after the fall of the Duke. The Republicans are two synonyms short of tarring Obama as too uppity to lead, and the arrogance charge just might stick. The son of strained, humble beginnings is now the latte-sipping liberal. The upstart who never even told the Harvard admissions office that he was an African-American applicant is now coasting by on his skin color and the glare of super-stardom. Rush Limbaugh says that Obama is ambitious, and Rush Limbaugh is an honorable man.

Thus history repeats itself. Obama’s possible loss need not inform us that we are all racists, or that a black man – or woman – will never win in the remainder of our lifetimes. I am certain that we will see progress with an Obama presidency, or without. But our sense of politics is regressive, and the Republican Party has understood this ever since they slaughtered Dukakis.

Second-wave feminist icon Gloria Steinem posed a question at the dawn of the Democratic primary: Would Barack Obama have made it as far as he had if he were a woman? Or, as Hoya columnist William Quinn once recounted the argument to me, “Would Obama be where he is today if he were a she and her first name was Baricka?” The question is fair, I think.

Anyone who has convinced themselves that our society and our politics do not continue to slight women is kidding themselves to some degree. Hillary Clinton was a shrewd and unbecoming candidate, to be sure, but that hardly ever warranted our peppering her with so many gendered expletives, like so many Democrats and Republicans have done for years (may they all go blank themselves). That said, I wonder equally if John McCain would have had the career that he’s managed – finally anointed by the Republican base – if he were black and his name were Barack. Somehow, I doubt it.

Justin Charity is a senior in the College.

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