Politics/Law/Government

Let's clear up this Obama / elections / racism issue

Yesterday I wrote a piece translating what I thought last week’s informal poll result meant. It seems like every time I get to talking about racism things get contentious, no matter how obvious the point I’m seeking to make. And if you read that comment thread, you might notice that by the end I’m being portrayed as saying some things, or perhaps meaning some things or implying some things, that I don’t actually say. Or mean. Or imply. So let’s drag it back out here to the top page, where I’m going to reassert control over my own intent for a second.

Let’s start with some things I never said and do not believe:

  • No, all Southerners are not racists.
  • Nor are all the folks in other red states.
  • No, I do not believe that everyone who voted against Obama did so because they’re racist. There are plenty of reasons not to like Obama that have nothing to do with race, and I, among others here at S&R, have written repeatedly about them for the past four years.

Now, let me state, as concisely as possible, my thesis:

A significant number of Americans are voting against Barack Obama because he is black. While conventional analyses suggest that this number is somewhere in the range of perhaps four percent, I believe that number is significantly higher. I do not believe it’s as high as some respondents to the poll do and I said so. In fact, I think some of those respondents have a view that is completely divorced from reason. I said that, too.

Specifically, to Matt Record, who argues, in part:

That Obama’s race would effect the popular vote to the tune of 10 or 20 points is, to me, absurdly divorced of reality.

So, we’re talking about 2% of about 120,000,000 who vote. About 1/3 of the total population. That’s 2,400,000 who will never, ever, ever vote for a black man. Ever. Because if they weren’t going to vote for Barack Obama, they certainly aren’t going to vote for Jesse Jackson Jr. or Al Sharpton.

Let’s even say that’s representative of the larger population. 2% x approx 320,000,000 = 6.4 million people. 6.4 million people that are so racist that they will never vote for a black man under any circumstance.

Yes, I believe that’s approximately the number. Of course we’ll never know who’s right but if my choice was between 6.4 million true, died in the wool racists or 64 million. (64 million!!!) I don’t believe that.

I previously asked Matt a pointed question about what happened between the 1964 and 1968 elections that caused such a sea change of party identity, as the South entirely abandoned the Democratic Party. The answer, of course, was “the Civil Rights Act.” A brief summary, courtesy of Wikipedia:

In conjunction with the civil rights movement, Johnson overcame southern resistance and convinced the Democratic-Controlled Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed most forms of racial segregation. John F. Kennedy originally proposed the civil rights bill in June 1963.[46] In late October 1963, Kennedy officially called the House leaders to the White House to line up the necessary votes for passage.[47][48] After Kennedy’s death, Johnson took the initiative in finishing what Kennedy started and broke a filibuster by Southern Democrats in March 1964; as a result, this pushed the bill for passage in the Senate.[49] Johnson signed the revised and stronger bill into law on July 2, 1964.[49] Legend has it that, as he put down his pen, Johnson told an aide, “We have lost the South for a generation”, anticipating a coming backlash from Southern whites against Johnson’s Democratic Party. Moreover, Richard Nixon politically counterattacked with theSouthern Strategy where it would “secure” votes for the Republican Party by grabbing the advocates of segregation as well as most of the Southern Democrats.[50] [emphasis added]

Johnson underestimated. By a generation. And counting.

Here’s where the thrust of my assertion that the number is greater gets more complex. I believe that those 4% numbers (or even Matt’s 2-5% thinking, which is wholly consistent with other analyses) are misleading. Why? Because the massive shift to the GOP as a result of the Civil Rights Act was exclusively about race. I lived in a house where lifelong Democrats switched parties and there was no attempt to conceal why, so I saw it firsthand. And subsequent votes were racist votes, even though the candidates paying the price were white.

That’s right: a vote against a white candidate can be a racist vote when it is driven by opposition to policies and positions that advantage minorities. Hubert Humphrey was white, but he represented the party that passed the Civil Rights Act. That backlash in 1968 was racist, despite HHH’s lily-whiteness.

That massive white-shifted voting block has never switched back, and from that fact we’re justified in considering why, especially when we ponder the 47-year history of GOP policy re: racial minorities, which has, frankly, not been terribly pro-black, has it?

Which means, if I’m correct, that the four percent number is the tip of the iceberg. In fact, it might even represent the more enlightened end of the spectrum. These are folks who won’t vote for a black. What’s hidden is the larger number of people who won’t vote for anyone associated with a party that passed the Civil Rights Act, and that’s an even more extreme racist stance. And if I’m right, it means that a good chunk of racist vote doesn’t show in conventional analyses because it’s buried in an ideology that masquerades as something else entirely and it never wavers.

My guess is that this theory is measurable. Somebody get me a grant and I’ll see if I can figure out how to test it.

At this point, Matt would probably be well justified in accusing me of changing the argument on him. If what I’m saying is true, then people aren’t voting against Obama because he’s black, they’re voting against him because he’s a Democrat, period.

Perhaps a fair rejoinder. To which I then reply that our choices are a) they’re voting against him because he’s black, or b) they’re voting against him because he’s a Democrat and they vote against Dems because it’s party that supports blacks.

Either way. In any case, this is why I think those analyses that focus on the explicit case of racial hatred for one man miss the point. But at least 10%, and probably more.

Now, let’s turn to another attack on my post in that comment thread, where it’s alleged that the county I grew up in has changed and I don’t know what I’m talking about because I haven’t been back home. Let’s look at some numbers.

In 2004, John Kerry earned 29% of the popular vote in said county – Davidson, in North Carolina. In 2008, Barack Obama pulled 32%. That’s a three percent swing in favor of the black candidate, which certainly looks like evidence that my critic is right.

Except. In 2004, the state of NC voted for George Bush, giving him 62% of the total vote. But in 2008, Barack Obama won the state by a razor-thin margin – the official number was 49.9%. That’s a state-wide swing of 12 points in the direction of the black candidate. So what looks like a three percent argument against me turns into an eight-point swing the other way, doesn’t it? While NC proper was making a decisive move in the Democratic direction, my county was lagging along in dramatic fashion.

This does not prove conclusively that Davidson County, NC is one big happy Klan rally. Of course not – there are plenty of educated, enlightened folks back home. But where the argument is that a significant number of voters – and you see my thinking on the percentages above – are driven by race, these results certainly do nothing to dismiss my position, do they?

11 replies »

  1. Do I have a right to comment if I didn’t read the previous post or the comments? Here goes. Trying to clarify what you did or didn’t say is a waste of your time. Why? Let me count the ways. 1. Some of your readers (anybody’s readers) never learned to read with any understanding. They miss anything that doesn’t hit them between the eyes. 2. They get emotional. Hit their hot buttons and they become totally irrational, interpreting your words through their emotional filters. 3. They have an agenda and aren’t going to put up with anything that contradicts or seems to criticize it. 4. They enjoy arguing for the sake of arguing, and will create an argument where there is none. 5. They’re trolls.

  2. These things can be true in some cases. Regardless, it seemed useful in this case to establish the reasoning behind my assertion that the percentage of racist voters is higher than imagined (because, at least in this space, it’s a new idea) and in the second case, well, it’s always helpful to have those inconvenient facts on the table.

    • Clarification is always good. Comments often remind me of what I meant to say and didn’t when I wrote a post. But, by and large, those who didn’t understand you aren’t going to be interested in clarifications or even in facts. There’s a huge segment of the population for whom facts are irrelevant. But that’s another whole topic, isn’t it?

    • Sam i live in South Carolina and you could not be more right on the money…. I have meet many many intelligent people down here with college degrees and they’re reasoning makes absolutely no sense when it comes to the way the vote.But as i have also found out, many people in the south never gets their politics from the news (several sources not just Fox) or the internet (Drudge Report) they get ideas at church on Sundays and or at the dinner table with their grandpas. And the generation that watched the Civil Rights movement still have racial anger regardless of the shift that the country took in the 60’s.

  3. Race certainly informed the tremendous shift in southern politics and to that point I understand what you’re saying. But to reduce the Republican party to one issue – an important one, no doubt – but one issue shift 45 years ago isn’t fair and it ignores every political change since then.

    To say that questions of entitlement, healthcare, welfare, individualism, gerrymandering and census questions all have elements of race – I absolutely stipulate to that. That some percentage – an upsettingly large percentage – of the Republican’s base is informed primarily by race in their opinions on those issues? I absolutely stipulate to that as well. To make that consideration THE overriding concern for an entire political party and its tens of millions of members? It’s paranoid, plain and simple and it closes the door on cross-party discourse.

    ———————————————————————————————————————–

    However, let’s return to MY original issue: Given that Barack Obama is likely to get somewhere between 49-52% of the popular vote today, 42% of the respondents to that pole believe Barack Obama would get between 60-80+% of the vote if he were white. It’s been 40 years since someone even barely cracked 50 and no Presidential candidate in 180 years has cracked more than ~63%.

    42% of scholars and rogue readers are either very stupid (something I don’t believe for a second) or are so skewed by their politics that they don’t have a grip on reality anymore. I find that dissapointing because my smug, liberal ego takes a hit when I realize the guys on my side are capable of believing complete un-truths if it makes them feel better.

    That Barack Obama – or an politician in the current circumstance – would get more than 60% of the popular vote is a lie, its a delusion, it is so incredibly unlikely that we can just go ahead and say it won’t happen and readjust our expectations later if it turns out we’re wrong. It’s not his race, its not his personality, its not where he’s from – 40% of the population just disagrees with him from the jump, straight up.

    Are SOME of those 40%’s disagreement based on race? Of course. But that wasn’t the question and that’s not the issue. We don’t have a venue to make racists less racist. But we do have a venue to better inform liberals so that our side is, if nothing else, united in it’s basis in FACT. I’ve accepted that some people are going to be racist – less so with each passing generation. In other words, that’s trending in the right direction. But partisan fact-warping? That shit is trending in the WRONG direction. And if I can’t convince my father to stop watching O’Reilly, I can at least try to stop the people who agree with me from not to become equally insane. Or equally insufferable.

    • Race certainly informed the tremendous shift in southern politics and to that point I understand what you’re saying. But to reduce the Republican party to one issue – an important one, no doubt – but one issue shift 45 years ago isn’t fair and it ignores every political change since then.

      I’m hardly ignoring “every political change.” I’m merely pointing out what the impetus was and what the preeminent organizing principle has been. Race is a filter, an ideology that underpins most of the party’s important activities.

      To say that questions of entitlement, healthcare, welfare, individualism, gerrymandering and census questions all have elements of race – I absolutely stipulate to that.

      That’s quite a lot, isn’t it? I mean, you just described a hefty portion of what the GOP is all about. Add abortion, gay marriage and foreign policy (which, btw, certainly has a racial flavor to it) and what’s left?

      That some percentage – an upsettingly large percentage – of the Republican’s base is informed primarily by race in their opinions on those issues? I absolutely stipulate to that as well.

      Great. So we appear to agree in principle, and the rest is trying to decide what the number is.

      To make that consideration THE overriding concern for an entire political party and its tens of millions of members? It’s paranoid, plain and simple and it closes the door on cross-party discourse.

      You’ve been watching these past four years and you think that particular door was closed by the segment of the population that’s opposed to racism? Really?

      Is it THE overriding concern? Well, that’s the argument Krugman makes. And it’s an argument with a great deal of historical analysis behind it. But I think a close reading of my posts – both of them – will make clear it’s not the argument I was making. I largely agree with it, but my specific point was that if Obama were white, he’d win this election by a landslide margin. I amended that, I suppose, to allow that for many, it isn’t that Obama is black per se, but that he represents the pro-black party.

      The argument that you’re ignoring is the other side of the ballot. Obama is running against the worst liar in the history of modern elections. He’s so bad that the staid, reserved, centrist, corporatist NY Times broke out the L-word on him. There is no reason why a man like Romney should win more than 30% of the vote even if, as I suggested earlier, he’s running against Voldemort.

      However, let’s return to MY original issue: Given that Barack Obama is likely to get somewhere between 49-52% of the popular vote today, 42% of the respondents to that pole believe Barack Obama would get between 60-80+% of the vote if he were white. It’s been 40 years since someone even barely cracked 50 and no Presidential candidate in 180 years has cracked more than ~63%.

      And as I posit earlier, that’s BECAUSE the Dems passed the Civil Rights Act.

      42% of scholars and rogue readers are either very stupid (something I don’t believe for a second) or are so skewed by their politics that they don’t have a grip on reality anymore. I find that dissapointing because my smug, liberal ego takes a hit when I realize the guys on my side are capable of believing complete un-truths if it makes them feel better.

      Or a third possibility – my theory is on the mark and it’s those readers who are right and you who are failing to perceive this core issue. Or maybe some of both.

      That Barack Obama – or an politician in the current circumstance – would get more than 60% of the popular vote is a lie, its a delusion, it is so incredibly unlikely that we can just go ahead and say it won’t happen and readjust our expectations later if it turns out we’re wrong. It’s not his race, its not his personality, its not where he’s from – 40% of the population just disagrees with him from the jump, straight up.

      This is at once completely true and completely beside the point. It is true because the lay of the land is what it is. It is beside the point because the lay of the land is a direct function of the aforementioned Civil Rights Act. The fact that your assertion is correct – and it is – doesn’t mean that my posit isn’t also correct. In other words, I’m explaining why, and your point about what is not a response.

      Are SOME of those 40%’s disagreement based on race? Of course. But that wasn’t the question and that’s not the issue. We don’t have a venue to make racists less racist.

      I don’t know. I was a racist kid and education helped me out quite a bit. Then again, GOP ed policies are all about killing off critical thinking and “social engineering,” aren’t they?

      BTW, in your high school, did the history teachers tell you that a lot of slaves liked being slaves or that most owners were really good to the slaves and that the slaves loved them? Did a student ever come to school and walk into a class taught by a black student teacher wearing a Klan robe (and wind up getting no punishment)?

      But we do have a venue to better inform liberals so that our side is, if nothing else, united in it’s basis in FACT.

      Couldn’t agree more. And I made clear earlier that what I’m offering is a theory. I believe it to be fact, and I explicitly said that I think it is testable. That means I accept that I might be wrong. But I have offered a theory and explained my reasons for believing it.

      I’ve accepted that some people are going to be racist – less so with each passing generation. In other words, that’s trending in the right direction. But partisan fact-warping? That shit is trending in the WRONG direction. And if I can’t convince my father to stop watching O’Reilly, I can at least try to stop the people who agree with me from not to become equally insane. Or equally insufferable.

      So, in your view, a PhD with a concentration in cultural studies who grew up a racist kid in a racist county in a racist part of the country, and who has since studied the issue a great deal, and who has offered a theory, presented his reasons for the theory, defended the theory against objections to it in a way that is wholly consistent with the way in which ideas are considered in the sorts of academic environments you’re in right now, in your view that person merits comparison to Bill O’Reilly?

      Is that what you said? Is that what you believe? Or did you misspeak?

  4. Sorry, I meant to say 40 years since we barely cracked 60% for prez candidate. What happened to the edit button?

  5. Sam, I think my comments were a parry.
    Yes, Davidson County has always been a bastion of Republican voters but to equate that to racism seems to me to be a false equivalency. I promise I won’t bother you with any more with my views of the south, in which I still live (albeit in a different county now) or other ‘irrelevant’ views.