Saturday, April 26, 2008

Obama's Failure to Clinch: It's Not About Racism

I noted in my earlier post, "Is it Really Race That's Messy Up the Democrats?," that Barack Obama's inability to clinch the white working class vote is not about race. It's culture and ideas - not to mention a bit of radicalism - that's thrown off Obama's mojo.

Well it turns out
Betsy Newmark's posted on John McWhorter, the author of Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America, and his reflections on Obama's recent campaign missteps:
John McWhorter makes what I consider a very important point concerning Barack Obama in this election. McWhorter supports Obama. I saw him on C-Span a while ago talking about what a wonderful thing it would be for this country to elect a black president and how he's genuinely excited about Obama's candidacy. McWhorter is a black man who has written in what some would consider a conservative vein about having high standards for blacks in education and how blacks need to eschew using black English. So that is why his essay in the New York Sun has special resonance. He is a man who can see both sides of ideological arguments.
What seems to almost frustrate some is that the answer to the question as to what role racism has played in this campaign is: none whatsoever.

Already many are wondering whether Mr. Obama’s inability to “close the deal,” as Mrs. Clinton has put it, with less educated whites indicates that they don’t like black people. To conclude that racism is the issue here is, however, reflexive and even lazy.

What we are seeing is that to whites of this stratum, there is nothing especially magic about Mr. Obama. That is, a considerable amount of Mr. Obama’s appeal is based on his charisma, his air of “freshness,” and so on. And yes, a considerable part of that is his color. I have written this before and will write it again: many white voters are stimulated by the idea of voting for a black candidate for president, as a gesture toward getting past America’s racist past.

People isolating that sentence as evidence that I oppose Mr. Obama’s candidacy will be neglecting countless columns I have written supporting him in this space. Nevertheless, anyone who claims that he would be where he is now if he were white is exerting the same kind of mental gymnastics as someone who claims “I don’t see race.” Mr. Obama’s color gave a boost to an interesting and qualified candidate and, well, here we are.

But that boost, it would seem, came mostly from educated, collegetown sorts. To this crowd, attendance to the fact that racism still exists, policing themselves for remnants of it, and taking especial delight in diversity are more important than to most blue-collar, small-town whites. That is, opposition to racism as a high priority is, as the blog has it, “Stuff White People Like,” the idea being white people of a certain demographic.

This does not mean that the whites in Pennsylvania don’t like black people, are “not ready” for a black president, or are evidence of racism “lurking beneath the surface of polite discussion.” It simply means that these people are evaluating Mr. Obama in a neutral way, and find Ms. Clinton more experienced, better prepared to steward a nation at war, and perhaps even having paid her dues in a way that Mr. Obama has not.
Exactly smack on!

There might well be people who are not voting for Obama because he is black. But there are many who are voting for him precisely because he is black. Geraldine Ferraro made the mistake of saying the exact truth when she stated that he wouldn't have been where he is today if he weren't black. A young white senator with just a couple years experience in the Senate would not have gotten the attention that Obama had and the encouragement he had to run for the presidency in the first place. Part of his appeal is that he sells himself as a bridge between the races and there are many people, like John McWhorter, who are excited at what it would mean for our nation to elect a man with Obama's ethnic heritage.
See also McWhorter's take on Obama's speech on race and religion, which the Illinois Senator delivered in trying to get out of his Wright-driven anti-American theological jam "John McWhorter Reviews Obama's Speech."