September 20, 2010
Neglecting the BaseBy BOB HERBERT
Maybe it was just a coincidence, but it was striking, nevertheless.
The mayor of Washington, Adrian Fenty, one of the so-called postracial black leaders, suffered a humiliating defeat in his bid for re-election last week when African-American voters deserted him in droves. The very same week President Obama, the most prominent of the so-called postracial types, was moving aggressively to shore up his support among black voters.
Mr. Obama, who usually goes out of his way to avoid overtly racial comments and appeals, made an impassioned plea during a fiery speech Saturday night at a black-tie event sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus. “I need everybody here,” he said, “to go back to your neighborhoods, to go back your workplaces, to go to the churches and go to the barbershops and go to the beauty shops. And tell them we’ve got more work to do.”
It’s no secret that the president is in trouble politically, and that Democrats in Congress are fighting desperately to hold on to their majorities. But much less attention has been given to the level of disenchantment among black voters, who have been hammered disproportionately by the recession and largely taken for granted by the Democratic Party. That disenchantment is likely to translate into lower turnout among blacks this fall.
The idea that we had moved into some kind of postracial era was always a ridiculous notion. Attitudes have undoubtedly changed for the better over the past half-century, and young people as a whole are less hung up on race than their elders. But race is still a very big deal in the United States, which is precisely why black leaders like Mr. Fenty and Mr. Obama try so hard to behave as though they are governing in some sort of pristine civic environment in which the very idea of race has been erased.