MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
In an election where voters can make history by electing the first woman or first black president, some Democrats face a tough choice. It's a quandary that has pitted pastor against parishioner, employee against boss, and in some cases, husband against wife.
BLOCK: Christopher Edley and Maria Echaveste. They both worked in Bill Clinton's White House - that's where they met. Now, they both teach law at U.C. Berkeley. But they went their separate ways in choosing a candidate. She's an adviser for Hillary Clinton; he's advising Barack Obama. Still, they agreed to talk to us, together, and walk us through their tough choice.
BLOCK: I looked at the candidates and I just came to the conclusion that I thought on balance, on their merits - when I ask the question, who did I think would be the most capable person to take office on day one - I know we've heard that phrase, but it really means something to me - I just concluded that she really was the candidate.
NORRIS: And Christopher, what about you? Tell me about your decision process.
BLOCK: For me, it's not ready on day one, it's a question of compass - the moral compass to make tough decisions and to provide a sense that there are things that you care about that you're willing to take political risks for. And that sense of strength, I think, is something that I see in Barack, and matters a lot to me.
NORRIS: Your dinner table conversations must be very interesting.
BLOCK: Well, when she's not throwing things at me.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
BLOCK: No, we've actually - we met in the White House in '97,'98, so we've had from the beginning very interesting policy debates. It's sort of like waking up discussing policy in the world and the need for change and the various ways in which we feel we can contribute.
BLOCK: It's nonstop. It's nonstop.
NORRIS: How has the discussion changed now that you're on opposing camps?
BLOCK: Well, it hasn't changed in...
BLOCK: ...in any substance way at its core. But one thing that we have tried to do very much is focus on how can we try to minimize the conflict, the antagonism that arises naturally in a campaign.
BLOCK: I think for the entire country, the fact that we have a woman and an African-American has really caused us to look at our language, our tone, out words, in ways that just we've never had to. And it's really uncharted because as we know issues of race are unresolved in this country. And it's been a learning experience for the media, for voters, for everyone - from campaign operatives. And I think mistakes have been made in both camps about how one speaks sometimes or how one perceives and the real challenge, I think, especially as this turns into a longer march for delegates, is to really ensure that we are united. But it's often very easy to go to the race and gender and sort of stop the analysis there.
BLOCK: I think one way that we've been thinking about this is is that there is so much within so many people that's either the potential for prejudice or the potential for paranoia. And in this extraordinary occasion, with a woman and an African-American competing at the very top, the possibility that phrases, that nuances will trigger either the prejudice or the paranoia, it's just out there and it's powerful. And we need new rules of the game so that everybody involved - both the politicians and all of their surrogates and all of their operatives - have a hypersensitivity to the risk of triggering those prejudices or that paranoia.
NORRIS: But it seems like in recent weeks, we've been wading through that minefield, and I'd like to hear from both of you, Chris and Maria, about your feelings about the tone of the campaign right now and some of the statements that have been made and this whole injection of the issues of race and gender sensitivities.
BLOCK: Well, certainly, that week or 10 days where race in particular was really being fought out was really being talked about, it was very painful in our household. Because we found ourselves really talking through how do I raise what I believe to be legitimate questions about experience with regard to Obama in which I don't trigger the race card. How come there seems to be a heightened awareness in terms of race and yet some of the real dismissiveness of - in the campaign towards Hillary in ways in which she's constrained that she can't, at times, use the gender card because that will be perceived as unfair.
I mean, it's a very complicated arena. I will say that I think that we got through that bump and it was the candidates - and which was really important - the candidates both issued statements, made statements that really appeal to the better side of everyone involved.
BLOCK: Boy, we had some very tough conversations. I mean, let me be honest about it. I think that Maria as a Latina doesn't have the same set of, what do we say, deep-tissue bruises that I have around some of the race conversations. She has always been the - more hopeful immigrant narrative moves Maria. And that's not me. So some of the dismissiveness directed at Obama resonates with me as the familiar uppity nigger narrative, to put it bluntly.
And the hard question is at what point do you draw the line between paranoia on, let's say, my part versus saying that, well, yes, this is - whether intended or not - the race card. It's an effort to actually appeal to some underlying anxiety about his race that infects a chunk of the electorate. And because it's so hard to draw the line, that's why we need rules in which everybody just steps back is exceedingly careful.
And I'll say on the gender side, I got the same thing. I've heard people - not Obama - but I've heard people speak dismissively about Hillary's experience as first lady that drives me nuts. Because having been in the White House, I know that she was very involved in an enormous range of policy issues. She was a player. And to dismiss her experience as first lady as somehow immaterial, I think it's playing to a gender stereotype like she was just a glorified housewife or something. And then she's in a box, because how does she combat that without sounding like it's back to the I'm-no-cookie-baker, sort of, redux.
I know that from the heated discussions Maria and I have had, drawing these lines is very, very hard to do especially while we're moving along at 7,000 miles an hour in a high-stakes political campaign.
NORRIS: Maria and Chris, thanks so much for talking to us.
BLOCK: We enjoyed it. Thank you.
BLOCK: Thank you.
NORRIS: Maria Echaveste is a lecturer at U.C. Berkeley, and Christopher Edley is the dean of the law school there. Thanks so much for being with us.