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Friday, April 25, 2008
 
COULD ANTI-BLACK SENTIMENT UPEND OBAMA ?

Rush Limbaugh says he knows how to put an end to these interminable Democratic primaries. The only time I ever get to hear anything that Limbaugh says is when I’m in the car and punching from station to station - which is what I was doing, driving around on Wednesday and Thursday . There was the mouth telling me that Obama could put an end to the race by asserting that the Pennsylvania results were a fraud!! How? Why? Because Rush Limbaugh had told his Pennsylvania listeners - presumably all Republicans other than the handful that monitor him for the comedy writers of The Daily Show, The Colbert Raport, The Stephanie Miller Show and others - to change their registration from Republican to Democrat and vote in the Democratic primary for Hillary Clinton. Just to assure that the chaos continues for a while longer. Limbaugh even calls his efforts to disrupt the Democratic primaries "Operation Chaos"

I don’t know how many Pennsylvania Republicans switched party registration in recent months, but there have been quite a few. I saw one estimate of 178,000, but I’m not sure that there’s any known reliable figure. I don’t doubt that a good many who switched did so in support of Limbaugh’s "Operation Chaos." After all, if they wanted to defeat John McCain, all they needed to do was vote for his Democratic opponent in November. There would be no compulsion to change their party registration unless they were true converts to the Democratic party and had a strong preference for either Clinton or Obama. But absent the effect of Republican dirty tricksters, the question of why Obama couldn’t win in Pennsylvania is being asked by pundits and - scornfully - by Hillary Clinton.

Why can’t Obama close the deal asks Hillary? In Pennsylvania, he outspent her - two to one or three to one - depending on whose weaving that particular spin on a particular day. He’s leading in pledged delegates. So why can’t he execute a coup de grace? Of course the obvious response to such a question is why can’t Hillary Clinton close the deal? She began this race as the presumptive candidate. She had loads of money to launch her effort. After an unexpected stumble in Iowa, she came roaring back in New Hampshire and looked like she was ready to reel off a string of victories. Nonetheless, Hillary’s question is relevant and the answer can be gleaned from the question. Obama can’t "close the deal" because Hillary won’t quit running - and since there aren’t enough delegates to be won from the remaining primaries for either one of them to reach the magic 2025 number, she’ll stay until the super delegates tell her the race is over.

But I have some thoughts on why Obama couldn’t "close the deal" in Pennsylvania. The state was supposed to be "tailor made" for Clinton, so - according to just about all the pundits - if Obama had won, she would have been forced to concede defeat. I don’t think she would have of course. She’s like the armless and legless Black Knight from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" challenging King Arthur to "come back and fight like a man." But Obama - as the front runner and to many, including the Republican party - the presumptive candidate - should be winning, even in states that are "tailor made" for Clinton, simply because he is in the same position as was McCain in the closing weeks of the Republican primaries when it was just him and Romney. The majority of the voters should be flocking to his side and affirming his candidacy. The fact that they are not may signal a problem for the general election.

Obviously, large numbers of older women are knee jerk voting for Hillary Clinton. They’re voting for her because she’s a woman. They’re voting for her because they’ve waited a lifetime for a woman to become president and catch up with other democratic countries that seem to have no concern about gender when selecting their leaders. I’m all for a woman becoming president of the United States. I just don’t think it should be Hillary for a whole flock of reasons - too many to go into here. But will the woman who have voted for Hillary support Obama in November? Many will I’m sure, simply on the basis of him being the Democratic candidate and not wanting a continuation of any of Bush’s policies. But others may stay home on election day - or worse, vote for the white candidate. Which brings me to what I see as the biggest problem for Obama.

We’ve come a long way from the days of Jim Crow and separate schools and all of the horrors of segregation. But not far enough. We now have equality under the law but not necessarily in our hearts. In my comments of April 4, I spoke of watching a news report from Pennsylvania where an elderly voter was asked if race had any influence on his vote and after hemming and hawing he finally admitted that he wouldn’t vote for a black man. He was also identified as "working class" - a demographic that we are told tends to vote for Hillary, with whom they "identify" - rather than Barack, with whom they apparently do not.

All of this is punditry, born out by exit polling and post election analysis, but I have a hard time buying it. What is there about Hillary Clinton that makes her more acceptable to working class folk than Obama? She had a normal upbringing, an Ivy League education and stints as the wife of a state Governor and then President. I can pore over that history from now until the November election and still not see how she is more attractive to working class voters than Obama. Unless of course, "working class" is a useful appellation to avoid considering the possibility that there are blocks of the electorate that aren’t ready to vote for a black man. At least not while he still has a rival for the nomination. It may be that their distaste for George Bush and the fear of a four year extension of his policies will prove to be a greater threat to their lives than the vision of a black man in the White House and they’ll vote for Obama in November, but it’s no guarantee.

We are being told that Obama does better among better educated whites - and I can believe that, though it doesn’t change my view that "working class" may be code words for anti-black sentiment. I won’t designate it as bigotry. I don’t think it goes that deep - but I think it at least describes suspicion - which will need to be overcome.

I remember when Harold Washington became Chicago’s first African American mayor. He had overwhelming support from black voters, many of whom - probably the majority - could be described as "working class." Normally, the Democratic candidate for mayor in Chicago wins overwhelmingly over any opposition. In 1993, Washington won by 3.7% - 51.7% to 48%. Large numbers of white Chicagoans voted for the Republican candidate - but Washington needed white votes to eke out a victory - and he got them from lakefront wards where a high concentration of "liberal" - well educated white voters lived. And something similar to that seems to be happening in the Obama campaign. Better educated white voters simply do not see him as a "black man." But those who see skin color before they hear what the man has to say will not be that easy to win over in November.

As likable as John McCain may appear to be to many voters - and that could change when they get to learn the darker side of the man - this year’s presidential election should be a cakewalk for the Democrats. They’ll have a great candidate in Obama - but it will be a sad day indeed for this country if he loses and if his loss can be traced to voting patterns that cry out - racism!!