Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Code-Word Campaign

How many Americans will not vote for Barack Obama because of his race? Never mind all the smoke screens about his elitism, "inexperience," and "associations" with Jeremiah Wright and a Weatherman of the 1970s, the bedrock fact is that, among voters supporting Hillary Clinton--white blue-collar workers, older people and the less-educated--are some who would never cast a ballot for an African-American.

In primary after primary, she has won these demographic groups by huge margins that defy explanation by differences between the candidates on issues that matter to them. If anything, Obama's history of organizing and empowering the poor in Chicago should give him an edge.

No polls will quantify such prejudice, because those who harbor it won't talk to strangers about their politically incorrect feelings and the talking heads on TV are constrained, not only by the lack of evidence but their own self-consciousness about discussing it directly.

In the New York Times yesterday, Adam Nagourney finally asked the questions: "Why has he been unable to win over enough working-class and white voters to wrap up the Democratic nomination? Lurking behind that question is another: Is the Democratic Party hesitating about race as it moves to the brink of nominating an African-American to be president?"

The answers were evasive. “Race is intertwined with a broader notion that he is not one of us,” said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center, which has studied voter attitudes toward Obama. “They react negatively to people who are seen as different.”

A senior strategist for Hillary Clinton said that, while race may have had a role in Obama’s Pennsylvania loss, his big problem was his image of "being out of touch."

Different, out of touch, naïve, elitist, a bad bowler--take your choice of rationalizations, but it would be healthier for the body politic if, for the rest of the primaries and in the general election, the question of race was openly and directly addressed.

That won't change die-hard racists, but it might force some voters to open their minds and examine their prejudices. Whether Obama wins or loses, that would be good for America.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Let me say that I prefer Clinton over Obama, to get it out of the way.

Considering the thoughtful nature of your posts in general, this one surprises me in its one-sidedness and naivete.

Yes, of course, some white people will never vote for Obama because he's half black. On the other hand, black people almost all vote FOR him because he's half black. I'm not sure, nor is anyone, what the numbers really are here, but there is a bit of a wash there on the race issue.

You fail to address a potentially larger issue: how many Americans, male and female of any race, will not vote for a woman for president? If you cruise around the blogosphere and look at the site that support Obama most strongly, the smell of misogyny is very strong. You can parse 'code words' if you want, but you don't have to. It's that obvious and clear in the gender-based invective.

This is an important issue to consider, along with the race issue, because it likely permeates the voting process as much or more.

By the way, Obama's work with the poor and as a community organizer is fine. But how that gives an edge to him over Clinton's several decades of work for poor and working-class women and disabled and disadvantaged children is a draw-dropper. She's actually pushed or helped push through laws on a national level to aid children with disabilities, and has helped many, many people directly through her pro bono and activist work in these areas.

The fact that you more than equate Obama's local work to her local, regional and national efforts seems to me to hint at hidden sexism. OK, I'm joking. It actually hints more at the Obama camp's need to imagine their candidate as the second coming while painting Sen. Clinton as a purely evil cartoon figure only to be derided and hated.

Sad to see this kind of thing coming from you.