Rich Ford on "racist" liberals who vote for McCain

Over at Slate Richard Thompson Ford argues that racism is an insufficient explanation for why some white Dems may support McCain:

Maybe some Democrats for McCain really buy into the experience line; maybe some voted for Clinton mainly due to gender solidarity and actually prefer many of McCain’s policy positions. Personally, I suspect most Democrats for McCain are driven not by racism but a much more widespread, simpler, and more primal motivation: spite.  

I suspect a lot of the reason Obama supporters want to tar every Democrat gone over to McCain as a racist is that they suspect that some unsavory motivation underlies this strange shift in political alliances and jump to the most uncharitable conclusion: racism. Juries are apt to do this in discrimination cases, too: If the employer is acting out of favoritism, vindictiveness, or spite, they figure he’s probably a racist, too. But in fact the likelihood of another unsavory motivation, sufficient in itself to explain the decision, cuts against the inference of racism: If Clintonites could be motivated to support McCain by spite alone, then we have less of a reason to suspect them of racism.  

Ford's more general position, from which this argument originates, is that racism has increasingly become the tool of the demagogue. He's probably right about that, except so is patriotism, classism, elitism, and isolationism. This idea that the charge of racism, lobbed in a country whose congress invented "Freedom Fries," would somehow remain pure is literally inhumane--it robs black people of their god-given right to reach for ad hominem, change the subject, and employ all sorts of non-sequiters. Meanwhile, I've yet to see anyone claim that the right-wing's shameless jingoism, somehow endangers the cause of patriotism at large.

But to the argument at hand. The trouble with this "spite" thesis is Ford offers no real evidence that it's anymore plausible than the "racism" thesis. Most likely, like all subjective pondering, there is no one answer. But there is sufficiently evidence that racism is part of the mix. We need not lean on the anecdotal, and cite the racism of windbags like Geraldine Ferraro and Harriet Christian, or their internet supporters. Let us for the moment dismiss them as mere anomalies. Let us also dismiss the minority of West Virginia and Kentucky citizens who saw no problem claiming--on the record--that while they'd vote Democratic if Hillary won, they simply couldn't vote for a black man. Surely this is not only a minority of Democrats, but a small, small minority of Democrats in those states, who in fact, just felt ornery on that particular morning.

But shall we also dismiss the stats in this Newsweek story:

NEWSWEEK pollsters recently created a "Racial Resentment Index" to measure the impact of race on the 2008 election. White voters were asked a series of 10 questions about a variety of race-related topics, including racial preferences in hiring, interracial marriage—and what they have "in common" with African-Americans. About a third of these voters scored "high" on this index; 29 percent of all white Democrats did. Overwhelmingly, these Democrats are the ones most likely to defect to John McCain in the fall. (Among "High RR" white Democratic voters, according to the new NEWSWEEK Poll, Clinton leads McCain by 77 percent to 18 percent, while you win by only 51 percent to 33 percent.) Many Democratic voters in West Virginia interviewed by a NEWSWEEK reporter on primary night, May 13, did not hide their animus toward you as a kind of exotic alien. Menina Parsons, 45, said she will not vote for Obama in the general election because "I don't think he's real. I don't think he's American.

Heh, don't you just love how they're no racists anymore? They're just people who score "high" on the "Racial Resentment Index." Sort of like how Jeremiah Wright high on the "Land Of The Free Index." Well not really. More like how Farrakhan scores high on the "Death To Jewish Blood-Suckers Index." Be that as it may, a third of white Dems would evidently feel uneasy, if I moved next door. But they wouldn't be racist, they'd just resent how people of my race play loud music, can't hold jobs, and tend to eye their daughters (ooohh!! white women!!). Of that group, a large number would support McCain.

Truthfully, I take two things from those stats--and from this whole Obama campaign. People, we've come a long frickin way. You have to note that even among those Dems that give Obama the creeps, he still wins. Of course you also have to note that there seem to be a lot of Dems who Obama gives the creeps, and if that's the case for the liberal party, then I don't even want to see the GOP numbers. My point, though, is that just as it's foolish to dismiss everyone who chooses McCain over Obama as a racist, it's equally foolish--in fact I'd say more foolish--to act like racism isn't a credible factor. I say more because historically it has been a factor. In 1980, 1988, 1992, and 2000, every winning candidate--at some point--either played the "I'm not a nigger-lover" card, or the "My opponent is a nigger-lover card" And there were no actual niggers in the respective races.

It's good to be counterintuitive, and no one finds the site simple-minded, reductive explanations more boring and irritating than me. But let's not overstate things. Just because the Sharptonites routinely use the race-card as a billy-club, doesn't mean that racism isn't a potent factor in our lives.

Presented by

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

Google Street View, Transformed Into a Tiny Planet

A 360-degree tour of our world, made entirely from Google's panoramas

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Google Street View, Transformed Into a Tiny Planet

A 360-degree tour of our world, made entirely from Google's panoramas

Video

The 86-Year-Old Farmer Who Won't Quit

A filmmaker returns to his hometown to profile the patriarch of a family farm

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

Video

The Benefits of Living Alone on a Mountain

"You really have to love solitary time by yourself."

More in Entertainment

From This Author

Just In