It’s been a busy week here at the rift, between wedding anniversaries, endless administrative tasks, lingering head colds, contentious departmental discussions, and avalanches of papers to grade, and I’m not halfway through the pile yet. It’s been so busy that I almost forgot the South Carolina Democratic primary on Saturday. But I snapped to it in time to click “refresh” compulsively on my browser, its tabs set to nytimes.com, cnn.com, and dailykos.com respectively, until the results became clear…

…and they were just about exactly what we all were expecting. I was looking for some dramatic reversals. You know the type: Edwards steals the entire undecided vote and comes out on top. Clinton becomes black by association and takes the African American vote. Obama loses, but retains a majority among white women. Wine and cheese liberals (if they have those in the Carolinas; in my personal experience, they have more of the ‘headcheese conservative’ type) rally for Kucinich, provoking him to rescind his decision to drop out.

Instead, South Carolina proved something else entirely: that this election is about identity politics, and that it’s too much to expect that your average voter will resist the heady influence of race. Something like 81% of the African American vote went for Obama, and this was the first time in a while more Democrats than Republicans voted in South Carolina’s primary. It’s not really surprising. If you’re a member of a group that has been oppressed historically, that has been marginalized, victimized by law enforcement, educationally disadvantaged, socially isolated; if you’re part of a people still seen as likelier candidates for success in sports or entertainment than in the more dignified (ahem) role of Chief Executive, then it may not be reasonable, or even desirable, to expect that you won’t elect a candidate who appears to stand for your race and its potential. The presidency is a symbolic office as much as a real one. The president is seen by many as the face of America. How wonderful, how unexpected, if the face of America were black!

I’m on board with the last statement (see post on Shirley Chisholm). But I’m not sure about the symbolic nature of this office. It’s all over the news that the Kennedys have endorsed Obama, and Caroline Kennedy’s op-ed piece “A President Like My Father” is currently wildly popular. In it, Kennedy stumps for Obama and stumps hard, glossing over policy points and voting records, and focusing instead on the soft’n’fuzzy aspects of the race for nomination: Kennedy is “deeply moved by the people who’ve told me they wished they could feel inspired and hopeful about America the way people did when my father was president.” Aw. Caro. Let me get you a tissue. Kennedy is a patriot, she tells us, and her appeal is both personal and political. She has a dream, and its name is Barack Obama. Because only Obama “has a special ability to get us to believe in ourselves,” and because, apparently, the presidency is not about heading up the executive branch of our government, but is about making everybody feel special. In Kennedy’s world, the symbolic nature of the office trumps policy any day, and image trumps action. It’s all so postmodern — I’d be applauding, except that I’m too busy gagging.

Because — and call me old-fashioned — I’m of a stripe that happens to believe that what the president does is more important than how he or she makes me feel about myself. I’m happy for Caroline Kennedy. It’s awesome that she thinks Obama is as charismatic as her pops. It’s great that she feels that, with Barack at our country’s helm, we’ll all be ‘inspired’ enough to “reach for what we know is possible.” But I want a president who’s going to do some reaching, too. I want a president who’s going to deal with all the other slime-coated politicos on Capitol Hill and come out on top. I want a president who doesn’t ‘have faith’ that if health insurance is available, people will buy it, but who understands that health care has to come along with citizenship, has to be mandated whether you want it or not, in order to be universal (seriously: how did “free market” health care become Obama’s “universal [sic] plan”?). I want a president who’s going to fix the damage inflicted by No Child Left Behind. I want a president who has more than ‘vision’ and ‘charisma;’ I want one who has a plan. And who understands its details as well as its vision. Most of all, I want a president who’s smart, who’s principled, and who’s not afraid to work hard — not just charming or alarming the public, like Bill or Barack, but behind the scenes.

So, Caroline Kennedy: this is for you. I’m glad that you feel inspired. It’s awesome that a person who spends more money on handbags than I make in a year is telling me that from her white, upper-class perspective, Obama is the best presidential candidate because he can make me believe in myself. I won’t even go into how incredibly patronizing that is to me and all the rest of the brown people of our country who not only want “change,” but flu shots and foreclosure relief. But you’re not convincing me. Because you’ve summed it up yourself when you say “I want a president who understands that his responsibility is to articulate a vision and encourage others to achieve it” (emphasis added).

And I want more than that. I want a president who understands that his responsibility is to show me he’s more than a blinding grin and a figurehead. I want a president who respects Americans enough to know that they have plenty of courage, and what they need is strong leadership. I want a president who’s going to do some achieving himself.

Or herself.

So I finally read Meghan Daum’s little essay about how we, the American public, are subjecting Hillary Clinton and her candidacy to The Rules, and it irritated me intensely until the last two sentences (which were more mitigating than redemptive). If you don’t remember The Rules, it was a dating advice book that advocated manipulation and concealment of one’s true motives as the best strategies for marrying Mr. Right for those women so desperate to marry Mr. Right that their frothing mouths scared all the boys away (me, I’m of the post-rules generation, and I like to think of myself as more of a Kelis girl than a Rules girl: my milkshake brings all the boys to the yard). Daum uses Rules philosophy as a framework for explaining why much of America is put off by Hillary: because she’s hungry. But so effectively does Daum subject Clinton to this retrenched Father Knows Best and The Little Woman Can’t Get Around Him attitude that it’s unclear whether she even objects to its unfairness until, at long last, she writes, “The problem is, political campaigns aren’t won by following “The Rules.” That’s why we may be further from electing a female president than we’d care to admit.”

Well, as my ex would say (and when he said it, it was at least three syllables): “Duuuuuh.” And more fuel to the burning pyre of remarks that attest that, at least in the world of politics, the testosterone card trumps the Anglo card, because masculinity is politics’ stock-in-trade. I don’t have much truck with the mainstream media, but yesterday I actually begged my chiropractor to take her time getting to me so I could finish the election coverage in Newsweek, much of which predictably focused on identity politics of this primary, including a piece detailing one black woman’s vacillations: gender? or race? or gender?

Now, I happen to think that voting your gender or your race is a crock of shit, but I guess it’s a more appealing crock than voting your religion, which is what those voting in the Republican primary seem to be doing (even if, at least temporarily, their religion is the Detroit Tigers — hey! Maybe Romney could get an endorsement from Tom Selleck!). But since that’s what people seem determined to do, and since I hate to see poor John Edwards continually befuddled by questions like how it feels to be part of a three-way with the first viable black candidate AND the first viable woman candidate, I have found for you a solution, one which comes from the annals of history:

Shirley Chisholm.

For those of you who don’t remember, Shirley Chisholm was a candidate for the Democratic Presidential Nomination in 1972. (Apparently a lot of you don’t remember, a fact which I would like to lay directly at Bush Jr. and Sr.’s doors, because American education has been circling the drain for the last 20 years; nonetheless, she’s been hovering in the forefront of my mind since this brouhaha all began, and I wasn’t even born when she ran). Let’s run down some of her attributes:

1. Woman.

2. From New York. In fact, from Brooklyn! (Could use Beastie Boys as victory party act.)

3. African American!

4. The Hair. Nobody can compete with The Hair. The Hair is awesome.

5. Working for the common man: she fought for minimum wage.

6. Compassion for others: visited her rival, famous bigot and pro-segregationist George Wallace, in his hospital bed when he was shot during the campaign.

Chisholm was, to paraphrase another prominent black woman (Grey’s Anatomy‘s Dr. Bailey), a poster child for “rising above.” She was a pioneer, a brilliant and charismatic figure, a snappy dresser, and a tough broad. She ran for president in 1972, people! Big ups to Shirley!

So what I’m proposing isn’t really that more far-fetched than cloned White Castle burgers. Chisholm for President 2008. All we need is a time machine.