Friday, January 25, 2008

The Race Card

There’s a popular theory now (see for example Mark Kleiman here and here) that Clinton’s strategy is in South Carolina is essentially to lose and to blame the loss on near-universal black support for Obama, thus making Obama the black candidate – the one representing black people – and thereby making him unattractive to white voters in future primaries. I must say, the logic makes sense, but I just don’t understand the premise; it doesn’t ring true for me. Let me say that I am, as I avowed in an earlier post, an Obama supporter, certainly not an apologist for Clinton. And let me also say that I’m probably wrong: I’m no expert in political strategy, and when I say I don’t understand, I’m not trying to play Socrates; I’m genuinely curious. (Now that I think about it, if Socrates hadn’t actually been Socrates, he probably would have denied that he was trying to play Socrates too. But Socrates must have developed a reputation of being wise in philosophical matters, whereas I’m fairly safe from being considered wise in political matters.)

I just find it really hard to believe that the average Democrat – well, let’s say the average undecided Democrat – is enough of a racist to vote against a candidate just because that candidate is a black man with near-universal black support. I’m white, myself, and I don’t think I’m a racist, but I’m hardly the exemplar of politically correct non-racism, and I don’t have the sense that my attitude toward people of other races is much different from that of the average white Democrat. (I’m taking into account, of course, the way I imagine party alignments have changed, or in some cases even reversed, since 1965, but perhaps they haven’t changed as much as I thought?) Certainly, as much as the next white guy, I don’t want Willie Horton anywhere near me or my family. (For the record, though, I did vote for Dukakis.)

But I surely cannot imagine myself, assuming I were still on the fence, deciding to vote for Clinton because Obama looked too much like the representative of black people. If anything, for a perhaps slightly racist person like me who naturally doesn’t like to think of himself as being slightly racist, if I have other reasons to like a candidate, then the blacker he is, the better. After all, voting for Obama, the black candidate and the candidate of black people, shows that I’m not a racist, and gives the lie to all those bleedingheart liberals who might want to claim that I am. If Obama were just some candidate who technically happened to be black, there wouldn’t be nearly as much advantage in voting for him. And if I were the exemplar of politically correct non-racism, the advantage wouldn’t be there, because I would have no need to prove that I’m not a racist.

The comparison is made with Jesse Jackson, who was the black candidate when he ran and was not well-liked by white Democrats, particularly moderate white Democrats. But surely (am I being naïve here?) it was Jesse Jackson’s political opinions, not his race or his racial support, that turned off so many white voters. Clearly, Barrack Obama’s opinions are quite different from Jesse Jackson’s – if anything, to hear many of the liberal pundits tell it, the problem with Obama’s opinions is that they are too far from those of Jesse Jackson. Am I being naïve here? I knew some white people who supported Jesse Jackson, and I’m pretty sure it was because of his positions, not because of his race. And I knew some white people who opposed Jesse Jackson, and it sure seemed to me that they opposed him for the same reason that the others supported him.

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Blogger Robert D Feinman said...

Off Topic, but you don't seem to have posted a more direct way to reach you...

You replied to my question of savings/spending on Mark Thoma's blog. That thread is getting kind of long and my question was a bit of a side issue anyway.

Would you be willing to rephrase what you stated there as an entry on your own blog and then we can have a more focused discussion?

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