February 22, 2008

Obama's Effect on Race Relations

Justin Katz

A few weeks ago, Dan Yorke brought one of his coworkers (a sports guy) into the studio to discuss his Massachusetts primary vote for Barack Obama. That coworker characterized himself as the only non-racist person he knew and sought to explain why it was appropriate to look at Obama and see only a black man who would help to advance race relations in America.

Dan posed the question of whether that approach to voting was racist. To those who'd say "no," because the vote wouldn't be motivated by the candidate's race so much as his effect on a particular issue of defining import in this country, I'd ask whether the same would hold true for somebody who voted the other way for the same reason. That is, would it be racist to vote against a black man simply because the voter believes that doing so would exacerbate race relations?

John Derbyshire offered some thoughts in this line over in the Corner, yesterday:

... Imagine an Obama presidency overwhelmed and floundering, like Carter's. There are enough issues, domestic and foreign, coming down the pike to make this very possible — you know them, I don't need to enumerate. Black Americans will of course go on voting for the party of a black president regardless. Nonblacks will flee from the Democrats in droves, though. A Republican landslide in the 2010 midterms (think 1994); a clear GOP victory in 2012 (think 1980).

By that point the Democratic Party might be nothing other than the party of black Americans. To the degree that black and nonblack Americans get on with each other at all, it is largely thanks to the coalition of black citizens and nonblack liberals and interest groups represented in the national political life by the Democratic Party. A permanent sundering of that coalition would be greatly to America's peril. Black Americans would be shut out of our political life.

Plausible? More to the point, even assuming it's plausible, would it (of itself) justify an anti-Barack vote?

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

If you're thinking of Gresh or Zo, I have a hard time imagining either of those frat boys voting Democrat (unless they think McCain's not conservative enough). Cordischi lives in Rhode Island.

Posted by: rhody at February 22, 2008 3:19 PM

It was Johnny Sunchips, producer for the Score.

Posted by: known at February 22, 2008 4:09 PM

If Obama wins and is able to motivate and inspire blacks to achieve what millions of Americans have done by stepping off a boat with $20 in their pocket; if he can rid the political climate of race-baiting and race-pimping and help blacks see they do have equal rights and do have equal opportunity in this country if they would stop relying the goverment to lift them up. If he's the leader who gets them to lift themselves up, he will go down as one of the greatest US Presidents in history.

But his policy pronouncements indicate to me that he will flood the goverment with new spending that will do nothing to help more blacks achieve the american dream. After four years with a black president, blacks will be no better off. Then, a leader could emerge and say SEE, it DOESN'T WORK! That scenario could actually bring many blacks into the Republican party.

Posted by: George at February 22, 2008 5:16 PM

You should at least wait until Obama is president before you tear down his presidency. Get over it he's our next president and you are voices crying in the bewilderness.

Posted by: Richard Tuoni at February 22, 2008 10:38 PM

I think the answer is no. Simplifying a vote for Obama in the terms Derbyshire offered is rather ridiculous, in my opinion.

I agree that race, in terms of black people voting for Obama, will play into this but you know what it is nearly an irresistible prospect. Consider that there has never been a real viable black candidate before. There have been plenty of white men, so much so in a race between two white men - race rarely presents itself. Ethnicity? Certainly, but rarely race.

And so for millions of black people such as myself we may have the opportunity to elect someone who looks like 'us'. It will be difficult for me to not vote for him if he is the Democratic nominee.

I doubt I'm explaining myself well here, but I don't know if you can truly understand what a monumentous occasion it would be to see a black president from a black person's perspective. I guess I can only liken it to Catholics supporting JFK in 1960.

And while we can only speculate as to the likelihood of his presidency to succeed, it's difficult to explain how much it would mean to see a black president. It would mean MLK was right, that this day would and could come to fruition.

I had two very contrasting conversations last night with an uncle of mine who is a Muslim and a friend of mine who is a Christian - both black. My friend was telling me, exhorting me really, to contribute and get on the campaign trail for Obama. He cited the refrain I have heard from many black folks, "Can you believe a black man has a chance to win the presidency?" No, I cannot believe it but at the same time I told my friend, "morally speaking, I have issues with him." My friend did too, but still thinks Obama's 'audacity of hope' outweigh those concerns.

On the other hand my uncle was as conflicted as I am. #1 he doesn't like Obama's support of Israel and/or continued support of exerting ourselves in middle east politics. Yet, he too said, "I can't believe a black man could possibly win the Presidency."

Again, I do not know if I am explaining myself well here nor am I asking anyone to not critique these thoughts. What I am saying is that it is intoxicating for a race of people who've never had a President, currently have only one Senator, and many of whom never would have believed that a black man could win now. 30-40 years? maybe. Now? Not so much.

But who knows? and who among black folks doesn't want to support that idea? i doubt you'll find a single person - politics be damned.

Posted by: donroach at February 23, 2008 12:13 AM

Don, I'm white, and I too would be excited that we've come this far as a country to elect a black president if that black man weren't so likely to perpetuate the policies that keep many blacks dependent on goverment assistance. I would share the excitement and celebrate the breakthrough if the guy weren't so, so, so liberal.

Posted by: George at February 23, 2008 12:56 AM

Obama was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii till graduating from Punahou High School in 1979.

I have been visiting the Hawaiian Islands since late 1960s until after living in Rhode Island more than 60 years retiring and moving to permanently Honolulu, Hawaii.

One thing I remember about living in Rhode Island, cities, towns and neighborhoods were characterized by the predominant wealth, ethnic qualities and racial makeup. Just as the racial points brought forward by this blog post.

In Hawaii everyone is classified as a minority except those of Hawaiian blood.

There are no defined ethnic cities, towns, neighborhoods and there are no neighborhoods defined by wealth, qualities, racial makeup and education because over many hundreds of years everyone has intermarried; built homes apartments and condominiums beside each other to live. People have learned to live together and share in Hawaii instead of picking each other apart.

Just about every religion and denomination house of worship in the world can be found in Hawaii. Also my favorite, just about all 122 ethnic group restaurants can be found in Honolulu for dining purposes.

People in Hawaii base their person-to-person interrelationship opinions on what each other brings to the community table not by the individual’s sex, ethnic origin or color of their skin.

After all, this is the United States of America and Hawaii is considered one of the greatest melting pots of the USA!

Posted by: Ken at February 23, 2008 1:10 AM

It is certainly interesting that things in America have advanced to the point where a black /mixed race man has a serious shot at becoming president. I see that on its face as a positive development for our country.

Besides a generally sunny personality, a good part of Obama's appeal to white voters is that he doesn't seem to fit any of the negative stereotypes which are often associated with black men in the media, etc. At least from what we know of his persona at present, he would appear to be "non-threatening" or neutral if his race were somehow a consideration. He's not running as "the black candidate," such as what Jesse Jackson basically got pigeonholed into being considered back in 1984. I don't think race shouldn't be a consideration (either positively or negatively) -- there's a multitude of other reasons to vote for or not vote for someone other than their skin melanin content. Obama's major problem is that he's barely qualified to be a US Senator, never mind President. He's a great orator, but so was William Jennings Bryant. Oratorical skill is good if you're into listening to speeches and "feeling good." However, no amount of skill at speaking is going to help you make good decisions for the country, especially at this time in its history.

PS I like the Carter comparison made in NRO, as it's one which I've been using myself with other GOP folks in private for quite a while now. Not withstanding the serious foreign policy implications, from a purely political point of view, I am not really concerned with whom is elected president in 2008. That is because I believe that we will essentially be repeating history this year -- circa 1976 (McCain is Gerald Ford, Obama is Jimmy Carter). I think things are going to go from not so great now, to very bad, very quickly for at least the next few years on a number of fronts. Whomever is president for the next 4 years is going to get the blame for it, regardless of whether it is actually deserved.

If we [Republicans] play our cards right, the circumstances in play will enable us to retake one or both houses of Congress in 2010 and then the White House in 2012. I also sincerely believe that whomever is elected this year, regardless of party, will be a one-termer. Although it is highly likely that I will vote for the eventual Republican nominee in November, to be truthful, I'm not overly eager to ensure that 2008's Jimmy Carter is a Republican. If it happens, so be it. If I had to make a guess, I think this is John McCain's race to lose (and the political part of me actually hopes he does lose). Obama is a great speaker, but when you analyze what he says, there really isn't any "there" there. Remember, we needed 4 years of Carter malaise to get 8 years of Reagan revolution. By the way, does Obama like Peanuts? ;)

Posted by: Will at February 23, 2008 1:28 AM

Don R, at the risk of putting you on the spot, would you hold the same view if the candidate were Condi Rice or J.C. Watts or Shelby Steele?

Posted by: Monique at February 23, 2008 7:39 AM

...or Michael Steele?

Posted by: George at February 23, 2008 5:15 PM

Good question monique. I made a promise to myself when Condi for President was rumored. I said, "you'll have to shoot me and drag my dead body to punch a vote for Condi Rice". So, simple answer - no.

I like JC Watts a lot. I wouldn't have any hesitation voting for him, but I don't think he would be viable.

It is certainly a good question. Obama is like a good drug, but I don't see the Carter connection. I think he's much smarter than Carter. Moreso...I'm worried, like George, that he's just so stinkin' liberal.

Posted by: donroach at February 23, 2008 11:12 PM

Thanks, Don.

... I was going to ask you to elaborate a little on your reservations about him. But the day his opponent is in the state is not the moment for it.

At the risk of getting off topic slightly, my own reservations about his opponent have been articulated very well by Christopher Hitchens in several places, including Chapter 7 of the paperback version of No One Left to Lie To and his Jan 14 column for Slate magazine:

"The happy couple [the Clintons] has now united on an equally mendacious account of what they thought about Iraq and when they thought it. What would it take to break this cheap little spell and make us wake up and inquire what on earth we are doing when we make the Clinton family drama—yet again—a central part of our own politics?"

Posted by: Monique at February 24, 2008 9:47 AM

Why do people refer to Obama as a "black" man. He is as much white as he is black. Why not just "man"? If one must refer to his race, why not "biracial" or "black/white" or "white/black"?

Posted by: Hazel at March 6, 2008 8:35 AM
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