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Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

In the name of fair play...

Let me take the other side of the "If Obama weren't black, he wouldn't be where he is" argument. In other words, can I see a way that it could be true?

Hmmm. O.K. The following factors converging could make the entire thing realistic.



1) Let's say the 400 years of oppresssion is true. But post 1967 or so the number of virulent racists has dropped every year, especially considering birthrates and death rates. At some point comes a "tipping point" where the number of racists no longer really affects the outcome of an election (for instance). I suppose it's conceivable that that tipping point might have come by, say, 2000.

2) There are folks who would like to vote for a black president to prove some kind of social point.

3) There are white folks who think voting for Obama would be a "get out of hell free" card. In other words, proving once and for all that they are not bigots.

4) There are black people who would vote for Obama just because he's black. These would have to outnumber the whites who would votes AGAINST him simply because he is black.

5) Perhaps for fear of being thought prejudiced, some whites might under-criticize Obama. Another motivation might be wish to promote a social agenda.

6) If the damage of the slave system and Jim Crow affected Obama less than most black Americans due to his African parentage or Hawaiian/Indonesian upbringing, this might also enable him to move through a perceptual/philosophical "loophole" with greater facility than otherwise possible.



##

There may be other factors I could reckon in as well. But IF much of the above was true at the same time, then perhaps the 21st Century opened a hole, and Obama was the first person capable of moving through it.



So...if someone were to present an argument containing those elements, while simultaneously acknowledging the very real problems that blacks have faced and still confront, I might disagree with their conclusions, but admit they had an interesting and plausible argument. On the other hand, if they DON'T acknowledge the social hammering blacks have received, I would suspect that their argument was actually another version of the "white men don't have a chance in America" "Affirmative Action Candidate" bullshit.



And if someone formulates their argument as "Hillary has it harder because she's a woman, Obama has it easier because he's black" I find that offensive, stupid, and purely political. I feel it is glaringly obvious that if you changed either Hillary's race OR gender, she wouldn't be where she is. IIn fact, you couldn't change the race OR gender of any president or presidential candidate in American history without completely trashing their entire career. No matter which way I slice it, the entire question is a non-issue, and utter nonsense.

21 comments:

Mike Ralls said...

>So...if someone were to present an argument containing those elements, while simultaneously acknowledging the very real problems that blacks have faced and still confront, I might disagree with their conclusions, but admit they had an interesting and plausible argument.<

That was more or less the possibility I was trying to raise and I believe I did affirm the very real problems that blacks had faced,

"For most of American history blacks, for societal reasons, were denied access to most of the experiences that lead one to become President. . . . Slavery (and the aftereffects thereof, including racism of whites) and Jim Crow (and the aftereffects thereof, including racism of whites) . . . for most of American history blacks were shackled."

Anonymous said...

"Let me take the other side of the 'If Obama weren't black, he wouldn't be where he is' argument. In other words, can I see a way that it could be true?"

Oh, that one seems easy: If Obama weren't black, he wouldn't be where he is, because he'd be even further ahead than he is now (for one example, already president and running for *re*election this year).

"4) There are black people who would vote for Obama just because he's black. These would have to outnumber the whites who would votes AGAINST him simply because he is black...

"...There may be other factors I could reckon in as well..."

4.5) How many of the American voters who are neither black nor white would vote for Obama just because he's not white and the other leading candidates are?

Anonymous said...

Steve:
The reasons you give are pretty much mirror my thinking on the issue.
with respect to point 1)&4) Obama is competing for the Democratic nomination as many have said in other posts most of the whites who would vote against him because of his race are probably in the other party.
2) probably plays a very minor role. and 3) even less. I believe 5) is a major factor.It seems to me that prior to the SNL skit Obama was pretty much given a free pass by most of the media. I still think he gets gentler treatment, but less so since that skit.

Marty S

Lynn said...

I was just thinking (before I read this)... it would be ironic, wouldn't it, if Obama lost the election because the working class perceives him as "too elitist". I think any black candidate would have to be at least somewhat elite to have a chance at all. Bush can get away with his inarticulate "man of the people" act but because of the bigotry that still exists a black person has to come across as more educated and more intelligent than everyone else.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

One more advantage I think Obama got from being black. From what I can gather, mainstream white America gave up on oratory sometime early in the 1900s. I'm told it's because people somehow decided that oratory = lies. What we got was duller lies rather than more truth. Eventually, we even got a president who was a lousy public speaker.

This isn't something I've checked-- I've been raising the question of what happened to oratory for a while, and that was the first plausible theory I've been given.

In any case, black America, partly because it was a somewhat different culture, and partly because it couldn't afford to give up something emotionally valuable, kept a tradition of oratory.

I don't think it's in any sense unfair for people who've maintained oratory to get a political advantage from it.

Dan Moran said...

I'll be blunt, of all the stuff I see on this blog (about half of which is directly useful to me) ... this stuff about what Obama's had to overcome seems most pointless to me.

Of course being black, in this election cycle, with this Democratic primary electorate, has been of some value to him. Being female, in this election cycle, with this Democratic primary electorate, has been of some value to Hillary. (Both in broad and in specific. Obama's carrying black voters at a 90% clip -- Hillary's carrying women by a fairly substantial margin, though I don't have the exact number in my head.) The reason Obama's winning, though, is that he's been winning among white men -- I'll call it the "black CEO effect," in honor of some previous discussions.

All this is seems almost inarguable to me -- and in both cases it's completely irrelevant to the larger point that their gender and race have also been a drawback for them in some ways.

I think people are conflating this election cycle with life in ways that are not useful. I'm not much worried yet that the primary is going to hurt the overall general election, but I would hate to see democrats go to civil war over who's suffered the most. Quantifying pain is awfully difficult in the first place.

Dan Moran said...

And if someone formulates their argument as "Hillary has it harder because she's a woman, Obama has it easier because he's black" I find that offensive, stupid, and purely political.

In this contest, I think Obama's had it somewhat easier because he's male. I wish we hadn't lost the comments on this blog a while back, because I know I argued his odds were awfully good even back before Iowa. I thought then and think now that voters would be more primed to accept a black man as Commander in Chief than even a woman named Clinton.

If the two of them were running for head of the local school board, I think Hillary would probably have won. But if I had to guess what the 10% difference in the actual voting came down to, and most particularly why Obama's winning among white men, I'd guess it's a lack of comfort with strong female leadership.

Dan Moran said...

Mike Ralls,

http://www.gwu.edu/~action/2008/chrnothp08/fdp092307faq.html

The Rules say you had to try to stop the primary move, but Democrats voted for the law. What gives?

Initially, before a specific date had been decided upon by the Republicans, some Democrats did actively support the idea of moving earlier in the calendar year. That changed when Rubio announced he wanted to break the Rules of the Democratic and Republican National Committees. Following this announcement, DNC and Florida Democratic Party staff talked about the possibility that our primary date would move up in violation of Rule 11.A.

Party leaders, Chairwoman Thurman and members of Congress then lobbied Democratic members of the Legislature through a variety of means to prevent the primary from moving earlier than February 5th. Party leadership and staff spent countless hours discussing our opposition to and the ramifications of a pre-February 5th primary with legislators, former and current Congressional members, DNC members, DNC staff, donors, activists, county leaders, media, legislative staff, Congressional staff, municipal elected officials, constituency leaders, labor leaders and counterparts in other state parties. In response to the Party's efforts, Senate Democratic Leaders Geller and Wilson and House Democratic Leaders Gelber and Cusack introduced amendments to CS/HB 537 to hold the Presidential Preference Primary on the first Tuesday in February, instead of January 29th. These were both defeated by the overwhelming Republican majority in each house.

The primary bill, which at this point had been rolled into a larger legislation train, went to a vote in both houses. It passed almost unanimously. The final bill contained a whole host of elections legislation, much of which Democrats did not support. However, in legislative bodies, the majority party can shove bad omnibus legislation down the minority's throats by attaching a couple of things that made the whole bill very difficult, if not impossible, to vote against. This is what the Republicans did in Florida, including a vital provision to require a paper trail for Florida elections. There was no way that any Florida Democratic Party official or Democratic legislative leader could ask our Democratic members, especially those in the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, to vote against a paper trail for our elections. It would have been embarrassing, futile, and, moreover, against Democratic principles.


~~~~~

So yeah, Dems voted to move the primary, because the Republican leadership, cleverly enough, tied it to a paper ballot. They also, from the first, tried to move the date to something that wouldn't screw everyone in the state, and the Republican leadership prevented it.

Anonymous said...

We don't have affirmative action candidates: they got where they are on their personal life force.

Money didn't do it: look at Mitt Romney. Old fashioned white good-looks didn't do it: look at John Edwards. Being Latino didn't do it: look at Bill Richardson. Being religious didn't do it: look at Mike Huckabee.

McCain, Clinton, and Obama touch people in a way that escapes those of us who do not, cannot do that. It defies reason.

Of course this is the time and place for them. In other times, none of them would have made it so far.

I am certain that there was vote count rigging in both the past elections. I have read seemingly sound reports (I don't know the source materials, etc., so I will not vouch for them) that demonstrate that Bush lost the popular and electoral vote in both elections, and was put in office illegally. This might not be the time and place for them if Gore or Kerry had been in office.
MJHolt

Mike Ralls said...

>So yeah, Dems voted to move the primary, because the Republican leadership, cleverly enough, tied it to a paper ballot.<

Provisions that the opposition party wants are frequently rolled into bills containing stuff that the opposition party does _not_ want - it's not some trick unheard of in politics but more like standard operating procedure. The fact that it wasn't important enough for even one Dem to lodge a protest vote tells me that they just didn't care much about it at the time.

And of course, it was the Democratic Party's decision to completely exclude the Florida delegates, instead of saying "Oh, the Florida Dems didn't want this and were forced into it by the Republicans, we should make a fine that is less extreme than total exclusion - like what the Republicans are doing to their Florida delegates - cut them in half as punishment."

Steven Barnes said...

I think that there is truth that Obama has some advantages running for President because he is male. I can buy that. And a nuanced consideration of how his blackness might affect the electorate (and Mike, you have definitely addressed this question in a nuanced fashion) is a completely valid and, I think, useful conversation. I don't see this question being addressed in a nuanced way in the media...but I hope I didn't take that out on you.

Mike Ralls said...

Na Steve, It's all good.

I just think its important to remember that currently we’re talking about the factors that may be influencing a _small_ minority of Americans who are currently doing the voting in the primaries. In rough terms were talking about 1 in 10 of the American population, and not a random sampling but a very self-selected one of registered voters who are registered Democrats who care enough to vote in the primaries. Factors could influence them disproportionately than those same factors could the rest of the country.

Mike Ralls said...

Oh, and for what its worth;

http://www.charlotte.com/559/story/581394.html

Johnson cites race in Obama's surge
Bobcats owner, who supports Clinton, says Ferraro said it right

Dan Moran said...

Mike,

Dems were supposed to lodge a protest vote against paper ballots? Really?

Steven Barnes said...

Yes, Johnson agrees. And what did I say? Two types of people would make such an argument:
1) those who don't know many black people
2) Those with a political axe to grind.

Johnson is in category #2, a solid Clinton surrogate.

Steven Barnes said...

Note also that Johnson is a liar, by his own admission. He claimed once to have been merely making a comment about Obama as community organizer. Later, he admits to the comment being a "joke" drug reference. Anything else he says is suspect.

Mike Ralls said...

>Dems were supposed to lodge a protest vote against paper ballots? Really?<

If they cared strongly enough against moving the date up, yea. Sucks, but that's the way the game is played and that's why sometimes politicians have to vote against "The Bill to Punish Pederasts and Feed Puppies and Kittens."

My take is that the Dems in the Florida legislature just didn't care that much back in '07 and didn't think it would be an issue. By all rights it shouldn't have; if any of the candidates had locked up the nomination by now, which is what everyone expected, then it really wouldn't have mattered. But life, she often does not do what you think she will do.

Dan Moran said...

OK, so you can't vote for something critical and at the same time be against something it's been married to? That's sophistry at best.

The record of Dems trying to get the date moved is pretty clear.

Mike Ralls said...

>OK, so you can't vote for something critical and at the same time be against something it's been married to?<

Of course you can, but in voting you show your priorities. 100% of Dems thought the bill was worth voting for, despite the provision moving the date. That tells me that not a single one cared enough about moving the date that it outweighed whatever other benefits there were from voting for the bill. So in terms of priority, preventing the moving of the date was not very important for them as demonstrated by their actions (words are easy, actions matter) and politics is all about weighing the cost-benefits of various actions.

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