Race and Politics

Race and Election '08

Faye Anderson, citizen journalist

As the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama is the first African-American standard bearer of a major political party.

While Obama received 9 out of 10 black votes, his victory was also powered by young people and high-income whites. So race no longer matters, right? Wrong. Race still matters.

The fact is, Obama racked up an insurmountable delegate lead before snippets of sermons by the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. exploded on Americans' TV screens and computer monitors. While he has since severed ties with Wright, the political damage was done.

Indeed, Obama lost six of the last 10 contests. At the same time, his weakness with white voters was exposed. While he won 57 percent of the white vote in Oregon, white folks in the Beaver State are a different shade of white. Portland is arguably ground zero for latte-drinking liberals.

In a recent column, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote about the "de-racialization of U.S. politics" and asked:

"But why has racial division become so much less important in American politics?"

Krugman must be reading exit polls through rose-colored glasses. Polls show one in five white Democrats would rather drink muddy water than vote for Obama.

The latest Gallup poll shows a stark racial divide in voters' presidential preferences. While 90 percent of blacks support Obama, his support among whites is only 39 percent.

In this "de-racialized" presidential election, voters use coded language such as "comfort level" and "he's not one of us." Rev. Jeremiah Wright, patriotism and the American flag pin are proxies for race.

At a recent forum on media coverage of the presidential campaign, Dr. Ronald Walters, director of the African American Leadership Center at the University of Maryland, said Obama wanted to run a race-neutral campaign. "His avoidance of specific issues was accepted by the black community."

Walters added:

"Reverend Wright became the hallmark of race for the Obama campaign and he had to speak out about race."

Over the years, I've noted that race is the Republican Party's Achilles heel. Well, folks, the shoe is now on the other foot.



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Scott Simon had the best take on how race has been used this week in the election.


Sent by Buzz | 6:37 PM | 6-21-2008

I am Southern, white, college educated, over 65, a retired educator, and from rural North Carolina. Race has no influence on my politics. I voted for Obama in the primary and will vote for him in November. Yes, I HAVE heard a few Democrats say that they will not vote for a black, that it's 'not time' to vote for one. Sorry, folks, how many centuries must we wait to do the right thing? For those who let race negatively influence them to not vote for Obama, I say, "I guess that this country isn't as Christian as it claims to be and I thought that we had come further along in maturity." My son, who is a Navy veteran, is very enthusiastic about voting for Obama. So am I!

Sent by Louise Adderholdt | 9:12 AM | 6-22-2008


Sent by MARK ohio | 9:37 AM | 6-22-2008

I must be a racist because I'm voting for Barack Obama because he is black.
Okay, I'm kidding ... but maybe not so much.
I'm white, female, 60 +, Independent, Catholic, live in a mostly white suburb and should fit the Clinton demographic, but I've been for Barack Obama since he first came "on the scene". He instills a LOT of hope in me ... and I love HOPE!
I also admire Michelle Obama greatly.
I heard that speech she gave when she was quoted as saying something like: "For the first time I am really proud of my country!" and I knew exactly what she meant. She was speaking about the increase in new "votership", especially among the younger voters. The speech was nothing short of edifying, but the only part that was noted was the above quote.
Michelle Obama is a strong, savvy, indepenednt minded woman. Those are some of the characteristics attributed to Hillary Clinton. So Michelle Obama should be a natural for that particular contingency.
I can't wait to see her as our First Lady and her husband as our president.

Sent by Lltebulb | 9:37 AM | 6-22-2008

This morning the question was will race affect the election in America? Are you serious? This question after you do a commentary on how people are afraid of Michelle Obama? Look, racism is a fact and the real question is what can we do as individuals, white, black, brown, yellow, red & combinations thereof, to overcome our instincts to don blinkers regarding this and search for America's best people to be our representatives, for all of us!

Sent by Jeff Tuttle | 11:13 AM | 6-22-2008

RE: what about race in politics.
Race has the same effect as any other characteristic upon the desired task. Which person can best do the job overall. I own a business so there's an additional factor: cost but in politics that doesn't have a significant affect.
It seems to me that one can't believe about anything a candidate says in that they WANT the job. Everything must be verified and their past behavior examined.
Who suppots Obama? People who identify as fellow blacks, very likly just as women supporting Clinton. then there is the youth who support Obama, they're the new generation who is less prejudiced and agree with his position, such as stated. Then there are the educated, affluent, while these can't be painted as all knowing, we consider them to have the most desirable characteristics and serve as a good guidepost for why and how to vote.

Sent by Michael Rogers | 1:11 PM | 6-22-2008

We will soon be bombarded with the diatribe that Barak Obama is married to Michelle Willie Horton. Racism is alive and well in America and the race card is the Right's Ace. As far as many voters are concerned all John McCain has to do is stay white. Sad, but I'm afraid it's all too true.

Sent by Frank Zika | 3:23 PM | 6-22-2008

Race certainly will matter in this election. I grew up in a racist household but managed to free myself of hatred by working for and with blacks. Despite my upbringing, I took the opposite view that all blacks had been oppressed and were, therefore, excused from judgments about their individual character, based on their personal actions. However, in the 1970's, I stopped romanticizing that all blacks were good and faced the hard truth that there are good and bad people in every race. I supported Hillary during the primaries but now, as the obvious Democratic nominee, I support Obama and will work hard for his election. It's clear to me, as a liberal, he's the better choice. Race is only a description--what matters is who the person is and what s/he stands for. Those who cling to stereotypes and judge people by external factors would do well to look into their hearts and see how prejudice affects their minds.

Sent by Ira Bindman | 5:10 PM | 6-22-2008

I was motivated to respond to NPR after listening to Scott Simon discuss, Reflections on Race and the Presidential Election.
The commentary from Mr. Simon seems to incite the hubbub surrounding skin color. He states that Senator McCain, and not a small band of jerks on the Internet, has never mentioned race. This naively overlooks media propaganda such as, "Baby Mama", to describe the Senator and presumptive Democratic nominee's wife. John McCain, the senator who voted against creating a holiday honoring Martin Luther King, may not directly bring the color of skin into the debate, however the Grand Old Party does.
Senator Obama in Jacksonville, Florida stated, "The choice is clear. Most of all we can choose between hope and fear. It is going to be very difficult for Republicans to run on their stewardship of the economy or their outstanding foreign policy. We know what kind of campaign they're going to run. They're going to try to make you afraid. They're going to try to make you afraid of me. He's young and inexperienced and he's got a funny name. And did I mention he's black?"
Senator Obama's rhetorical response directly confronts the prodding points of fear and bigotry. He continues on, "We know the strategy because they've already shown their cards. Ultimately I think the American people recognize that old stuff hasn't moved us forward. That old stuff just divides us."
The usage of "Black", even though Senator Obama is biracial, equal parts Caucasian and Congoid, is washed away. White plus black equals black. The insinuation of bigotry is hypogean.
If we are looking for "race cards" we should be focused on the skin color bias present in the 30% of Americans noted in the Washington Post-ABC News poll. If we want to elevate the presidential election discussion we need to focus only on which candidate is going to fix the many woes created over the past eight years.
Astute Americans won't only scrutinize both politcal parties, but all media sources as well.

Sent by Todd Buckley | 2:27 AM | 6-23-2008

My own attitudes towards race were formed as a child when I lived in Detroit and witnessed the riots of 1967. I was very young, but I saw the fear in my parents' faces and it made me start asking questions about race that changed me profoundly.

Now as a 45-year-old white woman I am well aware of how ugly this campaign will be because I am related to many people who still hold racist views, however much they may conceal or moderate them.

In spite of this I have great hope that Americans will keep their moral compass and not reject Barack or Michelle Obama because of the slurs that will be flung their way.

I am a strong supporter of Senator Obama, not only because I think he will be good for the U.S. but also because I think his election will be a symbol to the rest of the room that the United States is moving beyond the rule of old, white men to embrace the multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious world we live in.

I believe electing the first black President in U.S. history will be the most effective step we as citizens can take to restore our country's credibility and reputation in the eyes of the world.

Sent by Elizabeth Wahl | 12:01 PM | 6-23-2008

I love listening to Scott Simon's commentaries. I have, I think without exception, always found him to be clear thinking, enlightened, a purveyor of universal truths. He not only speaks his mind; but he seemed to be speaking my mind too...only more articulately than I could muster up on my own!

So, I was surprised to hear his take on the race card. I wholeheartedly agree with Todd Buckley's comments (above).

It seems to me that the crux of Obama's campaign, the strategy that got him where he is today on the national scene, was the genius with which he conducted his candidacy in race neutral mode. The race card has been thrown at him countless times; but he did not initiate the race conversation. Many were vexed by that; but I thought it smart and necessary. When it became apparent that responses to race comments had to be made, he did so promptly and eloquently. Certainly, the Swift Boaters taught us that lies and political negativism should not be ignored.

Most importantly, Mr. McCain and his party have made it clear, with votes and comments, over the past forty years that race does, in fact, make a difference and that black lives are less worthy than white ones. Some of these votes and comments may have been inadvertently racist; but they were racist nonethe less.

Sent by PJ Frederick | 4:58 PM | 6-23-2008

Yes, race is a factor in my decisions regarding politics and everything else. This country has made race, as well as gender, too important to ignore. I find it hard to imagine anyone truthfully feels otherwise. I hope my extended family's mixture of races and my own choices of friends from many races and cultures, while both of my own parents are of European background, will illustrate the diversity I have enjoyed. Such wealth enhances every personal, cultural, business, and political endeavor for individuals and the nation. For me, that includes supporting Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, and their daughters as inhabitants of the White House come January.

Sent by Frances Ellen Worrell | 5:02 PM | 6-23-2008

As a younger (28) person, I find myself flabbergasted practically every day that race is even an issue to people anymore. It is not and never has been an issue for me nor my husband (32). I think I could count on one hand the number of our friends that find race an issue. But, our grandparents easily say the majority of people that they know "don't like Blacks or Mexicans". They come from a different age of intolerance. It seems to lessen and lessen with every generation, but depending on how instilled the racism "value" is in your family or community, we still have pockets within our nation that seem to thrive on racism and intolerance. Many seem to be recruited by Fox News.

I grew up in a small Arkansas town, where just 45 minutes away lives/ed a KKK Grand Wizard. The backward-thinking KKK tried to hold rallies in our town, so I understand that those hate-filled type of values still exist. What I find astonishing is that the race of a person is something that people actually use when summing up individuals. What is the difference of someone who is 'black', 'white', 'brown', etc? Only a few outward features. Everything else is the same. Nothing about a black-human and a white-human is different other than one has more and one has less pigment in their skin. We all have the same brains, same blood and same original origin.

Why people let themselves succumb to such petty ways of thinking is deplorable to me. Is someone's skin color really an important issue? With thousands of our countrymen/women dead in Iraq/Afghanistan; with our housing market in the gutter; with gas doubling in price in just over a 2 year span...all this and race is an important issue? It seems that some people's order of issues are horribly distorted. Race (which shouldn't be an issue at all) should be the last on the list of people's concerns and one that shouldn't be a deciding factor--period.

Sent by Jessica Capps | 12:40 PM | 6-26-2008