Is America too racist to elect a black president?
That’s a question raised by a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, which said 30 percent of Americans admit having feelings of racial prejudice. In a previous poll, only about two-thirds of whites said they would be "entirely comfortable" with a black president.
Barack Obama seems to think his race will be an issue, recently saying of Republicans: "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?’"
Will prejudice decide the presidency? Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis, the RedBlueAmerica columnists jump into the fray.
It’s unlikely that the one-third of Americans who acknowledge prejudiced feelings is actually racist. Some probably are, and some are probably honest and good-hearted people who recognize their feelings of prejudice, but don’t give into them. Polls typically don’t allow for that kind of nuance.
But the Washington Post-ABC News poll is still cause for concern. After two elections that have been decided by just a few hundred or few thousand votes in critical states, it’s not hard to see that three-in-10 number and think it looks very big. And it’s likely that number might actually be too low — because many Americans wouldn’t want to break a taboo and admit racism, even to a pollster.
So what’s Obama to do?
Basically, what he’s been doing: Appealing to the better angels of the voters’ consciences. Sure, there are people who think that any discussion of racism’s lingering effects on society is race-baiting — but they’re wrong. Obama can win by challenging Americans to be their best selves, to judge him on the content of his character and policies, instead of the color of his skin.
So much for Barack Obama, the "post-racial" candidate — if indeed he ever existed. Obama’s remarks at a Jacksonville fundraiser the other day were far more revealing than his ornate speech in Philadelphia on race in America just a few months ago. "We know what kind of campaign they’re going to run." We do? With the exception of Hillary Clinton’s deplorable race baiting during the primaries, no candidate has played the race card more brilliantly than Obama.
The vast majority of Americans are arguably more post-racial than Obama and his Hyde Park neighbors, or his amen corner in the press. Take that Washington Post-ABC News poll. The pollsters assembled a "racial sensitivity index" to gauge Americans’ "racist feelings" and "perceptions of discrimination," the Post reported — which are highly subjective.
Evidently, one would score high on the index by hewing to the politically correct line on race. Many Americans of all races might beg to differ.
Besides, Republicans would be foolish to make Obama’s race an issue when Obama insists on making an issue of it himself. The issue isn’t Obama’s race at all. His policy prescriptions on a range of issues — from health care and Social Security to the war on terrorism and nuclear proliferation — would all but guarantee higher taxes, bigger government, a diminished private sector at home and declining prestige abroad. Those are meaty issues for a presidential campaign, and they represent a clear contrast between McCain and Obama.
You might even say the difference is black and white.
(Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis blog daily at www.infinitemonkeysblog.com and joelmathis.blogspot.com.)