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Sunday, September 7, 2008

Will Whites Vote for Obama

From its beginnings, America has been a white nation, with white nationalism being at the core of whites maintaining political power. With the defeat of the white supremacist Jim Crow South, adherents to this ideology who wanted to be "respectable" had to modernize their discourse. The expression of that "modernization" became the "Reagan Revolution." As is now commonly known Reagan opened his 1980 Presidential campaign at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the site of the murder of the civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Mickey Schwerner. In the aftermath of George Wallace's forays in the North in 1968 and 1972, it became common knowledge that there was a receptivity to white nationalism in the North. Even so, as a former Governor of Alabama, Wallace remained a regional figure. Nixon flirted with the "southern strategy," but it took Ronald Reagan in 1980 to consolidate white nationalism in its current form as mainstream. Reagan legitimized racism in the mainstream. His economic policies were hostile to the poor, particularly impoverished blacks. His racism was evidenced as he pandered to the racists by promoting the stereotype of the "welfare queen." At the core of the so-called "Reagan Democrats" were union members who were disaffected from their union's support for civil rights. He took his campaign to the white working class be holding the 1980 Republican National Convention in historically working class city, Detroit.

After almost 30 years of "Reagan Revolution," the bankruptcy of conservatism has been exposed. 80% of the American people say the country is going in the wrong direction. Thanks to Bush-Cheney, conservatism and the Republican brands are now in disrepute. The war in Iraq, the economy, and corruption, all contribute to the dissatisfaction. Under these circumstances, one would think Barack Obama would be a shoo-in. At this point, what should be a landslide looks like a tight race between him and the current version of John McCain the Republican nominee. The closeness of the race can be attributed to the fact that Barack Obama is an African American.

Given America’s historic white nationalism and the fact that Barack is black, there was no question that this election is to be a referendum on white nationalism. Barack has broken barriers when it comes to being a black nominee of a major political party. His success in winning out over the powerful Clinton organization required broad based support. For an electorate that is in the mood for change, Barack is the logical candidate. The polls show a consistent but close Obama lead. It is this closeness that worries many about his candidacy. It is worrisome because there is a significant segment of whites who SAY they will not vote for Obama because he is black. If there are a number of whites who are willing to express their racism by saying they will not vote for Obama, the question becomes how many whites are not WILLING to state that they will not vote for him because he is black. It is this phenomenon that proved to defeat Tom Bradley in his run for governor of California. Bradley led in the polls but lost the election, ergo “The Bradley effect.”

Under the circumstances, it seems to be clear that this election is a referendum on white nationalism. There is reason to believe that Obama should win by a landslide but Don Polman of the Philadelphia Inquirer warns that maybe it’s true: White America is not ready for a black president. Should that be the case, America may be beyond hope -- at least for the foreseeable future. RGN

The American Debate: It's little discussed, but Obama's race may be decider

By Dick Polman

Inquirer National Political Columnist

Let us swing the door ajar and invite the elephant into the room. One big reason Barack Obama is locked in a tight race, rather than easily outdistancing his opponent, is because he is black.

That factor is rarely discussed in polite political conversation. People tend to dance around it, talking instead about Obama's perceived inexperience, or his youth, or his perceived airs, or his liberal voting record. And racist sentiment rarely shows up in the polls, because a lot of people don't want to share their baser instincts with the pollsters; they'll save that instead for the privacy of the voting booth.

But the incremental evidence - anecdotal and even statistical - has become impossible to ignore.

Union organizers in the key state of Michigan complain in the press that, as one puts it, "we're all struggling to some extent with the problem of white workers who will not vote for Obama because of his color." An aging mine electrician from Kentucky is quoted as saying, "I won't vote for a colored man. He'll put too many coloreds in jobs." An elderly woman in a New Jersey hair salon is overheard complaining about Barack and Michelle Obama the other day, about how blacks supposedly have larger bones than whites, and about how she's fleeing America if Obama wins.

Jimmy Carter, while attending the Democratic convention, cited race as a "subterranean issue," yet at times this year it has been bared for all to see. Case in point, Pennsylvania. On the day of the Democratic presidential primary, 12 percent of the white Democratic voters told the exit pollsters that race mattered in their choice of candidate; of those whites, 76 percent chose Hillary Rodham Clinton over Obama. The same pattern surfaced in other states, including the key autumn state of Ohio.

This is worth pondering a moment longer. If 12 percent of Democratic voters are willing to tell exit pollsters, eye to eye, that race was an important factor, to Obama's detriment, isn't it fair to assume that the real percentage (including those who kept their sentiments private) was actually higher? And what might this portend for the general election, when the white electorate will be broader, and hence significantly less liberal, than in Democratic contests?

Here's one hint. Last June, the Washington Post-ABC News poll devised a "racial sensitivity index," based on a series of nuanced questions that were designed to measure the varying levels of racial prejudice in the white electorate. The pollsters came up with three categories, ranging from most to least enlightened. The key finding: Whites in the least-enlightened category - roughly 30 percent of the white electorate - favored John McCain over Obama by a ratio of 2-1.

A few prominent Democrats did broach this sensitive topic at the Denver convention. Dee Dee Myers, the former Bill Clinton aide, shared her concerns at one political forum, and with good reason. She worked for Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley in the 1980s, when it appeared that Bradley was a cinch to win his U.S. Senate contest despite his race. The final round of polls showed him winning comfortably. He lost.

"I lived through that," Myers said. "We're whistling past the graveyard if we think that race was not a factor in the Democratic primaries. Today's young voters will get us past these attitudes," but it will take time. As for millions of older voters, "they talk about having 'culture' problems [with Obama], but to separate culture from race is impossible."

And Markos Moulitsas, who runs the liberal Daily Kos blog, said: "It's human nature. A lot of people want to cling to the comfortable world that they've always lived in. The Obamas don't look like what First Families have always looked like. This will be one of the factors in the fall, because a lot of people simply want to stick with what they've known in the past."

The race obstacle is not necessarily fatal, of course, because in the end it may be trumped by other factors - such as McCain's age, or nagging concerns about handing the nuclear football in an emergency to a "hockey mom" as GOP vice presidential candidate whose chief national security credential is the proximity of Alaska to Russia.

But clearly Obama needs to tread carefully, arguably by stressing lunch-pail economic issues and continuing to present himself as a "post-racial" candidate. He will need to dispel these white suspicions, if only because whites will continue to dominate the electorate - they constituted 77 percent of all voters in 2004 - even if he manages to inspire an historic black turnout. He has to bond somehow with blue-collar whites, yet he cannot show too much passion, because, as Democratic strategist Joe Trippi explained to me, "those whites don't like to see a black guy getting angry, it's a dangerous thing for an African American candidate to do."

I'm not suggesting that racism would be the sole explanation for an Obama loss. Nor am I seeking to insult those who object to Obama purely on the issues. But if Obama winds up losing after having posted a seemingly solid polling lead on election eve, we may well find ourselves pondering the words of Henry David Thoreau, who wrote in 1854 that "public opinion is a weak tyrant, compared with our own private opinion."


Kevin Lockett said...

I loved Polman's article, too, and I'm glad that people are finally waking up to the fact that race is playing a big role in this election.

RGN said...

No question. The great thing about Polman's piece is that it tells the truth and does not hide behind "why can't he close the deal?" and show them that "he is one of them." The ignorance and seeming innocence is sickening. While I think this referendum on white nationalism will prove a winner for the "good guys," I must say that one does get a lot of hostile "No's" when you identify yourself as calling on behalf of the Obama campaign (Mid-Michigan). There are many who are very receptive but the "no" group does seem to express a lot of hostility.