One of the most dispiriting aspects of this election has been watching white pundits charge Obama with purging white people of their own suicidal racism. These are some of the same pundits who revile black leaders for charging America with purging black people of all of their problems. And yet they're fine making one black man responsible for this country's most historically insidious feature. Peter Beinart, after noting that an unfortunate number of white voter say they won't vote for Obama because he's black, busts out with the "Why are you making me hurt you" argument and offers the sort of counsel we've come to expect:
even racists can be wooed. Think about it this way: Many of the voters who right now won't vote for Obama because he's black would probably vote for Colin Powell even though he's black. That's because they don't see Powell as a racial redistributionist, a guy who would favor his community at their expense. There's no rational reason to believe Obama would, either. But because, unlike Powell, Obama is a liberal Democrat who enjoys overwhelming black support, that's what many racially hostile white voters assume.
For these voters, Obama can't make race go away by ignoring it, especially because the GOP and the media won't. He needs to acknowledge their fears and do something dramatic to assuage them. Paradoxically, his best shot at deracializing the campaign is to explicitly make race an issue.
He can do that with a high-profile speech -- and maybe a TV ad -- calling for the replacement of race-based preferences with class-based ones. That would confront head-on white fears that an Obama administration would favor minorities at whites' expense. It would be a sharper, more dramatic, way of making the point that Obama has made ever since he took the national stage (but which some whites still refuse to believe): that he represents not racial division but national unity.
In the words of the departed Heath Ledger, Where do we begin. Well, start with the fact that Beinart gives a lot of credit to white racists--probably because he's never had to tangle with them. As I've argued before, there's just no evidence that Affirmative Action is the reason why these people are telling pollster that they won't vote for Obama because he's black. It simply isn't the same thing to be against Affirmative Action and to refuse to vote for someone because they're black. Second, Beinart's test-case, Colin Powell, is pro-Affirmative Action. I really have no idea how Powell would fair with white racists. And really Beinart doesn't either, because there's just no data on it.
Furthermore, there's are some very good reasons why Powell never ran for president. Personal ones aside, I suspect some of them have to do with the fact that Powell isn't just for Affirmative Action, he's for some level of gun control, and he's pro-choice. I agree that the military angle helps, but this idea that white racists are gunning for Obama because of Affirmative Action is just meritless.
Man listen, I'm quite clear on this--Barack Obama has to win. I don't want to hear any crap post-election about the Bradley effect and the odds stacked against him. The odds weren't on Martin Luther King's side. The odds weren't in Harriet Tubman's favor. If you want your face up on that black Rushmore (with Malcolm, Martin, Frederick and Harriet), if you want to run that Jackie Robinson campaign, then you have to do what Jackie did--win.
But I really don't want to hear that message from white pundits who think the white racism is a "black problem," and thus something they bear no responsibility in dealing with. The "blame Affirmative action" argument is so old its almost comic. Before that it was "blame forced busing." Before that it was "blame the civil rights carpetbaggers." Before that it was "blame the War of Northern Aggression." There's always a good reason to be a racist.
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