Too often when discussing the presidential campaign of Barack Obama the topic turns to the issue of racism and what role it will play in the outcome of the campaign. There seems to be an assumption among many on the left that since all of Obama’s words and deeds are pure perfection, the only reason why anyone could oppose him must be that they are deeply evil in some way. Surely they’re neocons or racists or part of some fundamentalist cult which has twisted their minds so that they cannot receive the message of pure goodness which radiates from Obama.
This fits right in with a general attitude on the left that Republicans are inherently racist as a group, presumably because many of them are from the south or midwest where racism is assumed to be part of the culture, at least by the leftist elite of the northeast which has no real familiarity with life outsided their limited sphere of awareness. Never mind that Republicans freed the slaves and have championed civil rights for everyone since that time. Never mind that there are more and more prominent African-American Republicans. Few people are more provincial than the blue-state intellectual elite, who manage to revere any culture which is not American, while lacking even the most basic understanding of life in most of the rest of their own country, dismissing it as ‘flyover country’ and making no effort to learn anything about the life and beliefs of those who are outside their cultural subgroup.
While racism may play some role in this election, I see very little reason to expect red-state racism to be a big factor. The real threat to Obama comes from a softer and widespread racism coming mostly from the working and middle class of the blue states, who vote with the Democrats but have never before been asked to challenge that loyalty by voting for a black man.
I’ve talked to a lot of voters. The mild expressions of racism I’ve seen have pretty much universally come from Democratic or independent voters and almost never from Republicans or voters on the right. Those who oppose Obama most strongly seem to oppose him primarily on an ideological basis. Those who oppose him on the basis of race seem more likely to agree with him ideologically, but are just uncomfortable with him for vague reasons which at least subconsciously include race.
The racism I see in this election is peculiar. The few hardcore racists out there are are small in number and easy to write off as irrelevant politically. They may try to assassinate Obama, but they probably aren’t even registered to vote – Aryan Nation members are largely ex-convicts and are likely banned from voting in many states. Sertious racists are going to vote insanely and for stupid reasons no matter who is running, and probably hate McCain almost as much as Obama. The racism which really matters comes from people who basically are not racist in their normal life, but when put on the spot and having to make a decision, a mild subliminal racism may surface in the form of second thoughts and nagging doubt.
If the Republicans had nominated someone more part of the ideological right than McCain, these people would have bitten the bullet and voted for Obama, but subscribing to a generally moderate political philosophy and perhaps nudged by a very mild and unacknowledged uneasiness about race, they may shy away from Obama and move towards McCain because he seems like a viable alternative.
I hate to see the GOP which was founded on opposition to racist policy and which has championed liberty for all minorities benefit from this, but they and McCain do appear to be unintended beneficiaries of cultural squeamishness. In any other situation I don’t think it would be a big issue, but in this highly contentious election it does seem to make a difference.
That difference will come when those moderate and uneasy voters, many of whom may have previously professed support for Obama, find themselves in the privacy of the voting booth and pull the lever for McCain on a momentary impulse driven by a lingering doubt that those who are so inclined can certainly class as racism. These voters may never have uttered a racist word or committed even the most minor act of racism in their normal lives, but in the privacy of the voting booth all bets are off and no one is holding them accountable, so they may play it safe with McCain.
The great irony is that if Obama does somehow manage to lose, it will be inevitable that rather than placing the blame squarely where it belongs — on his divisive rhetoric, marxist ideology and belief in the redistribution of wealth — Democrats will be able to ignore the fact that most of the votes against Obama will have been because of these issues and that voters have rejected those values and instead they blame erroneously put all the blame on the racism represented by a tiny number of weak minded voters who may well be Democrats. If there’s one thing we can count on, it’s that the left is always glad to place the blame on the shortcomings of others rather than engaging in any examination of their own mistakes.