What the Reid Incident Shows about the GOP’s Racial Outlook

The conservative high dudgeon about Harry Reid’s 2006 comments on Obama’s electoral prospects is flatly ridiculous (though if you want to read more, check out Mark Kleiman here or read George Will denouncing it here). Still, these paragraphs from Dave Weigel’s write-up are pretty revealing about the GOP’s views on race.

The White House immediately leaped to Reid’s defense, but for Republicans, this was manna from heaven. The National Republican Senatorial Committee blasted out three press releases on Reid’s “embarrassing” secondhand quotes. “For those who hope to one day live in a color-blind nation,” said NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh, “it appears Harry Reid is more than a few steps behind them.” On Sunday, after no Democrats had stepped out to criticize Reid, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele rebounded from a tough week of attacks on his extracurricular book tour by demanding that Reid resign as Senate majority leader.

This is a curious straw man. I’m pretty sure most liberals explicitly don’t want to see a “color-blind” nation. Rather, it’s conservatives that generally prefer “color-blindness” because it ends racism in one fell rhetorical flourish. This, of course, frees conservative politicians from grappling from the fact that many of their policies are grossly disadvantageous to racial minorities.

Still, Republican strategists told TWI that the party was ill-positioned to do much more damage to Reid. The senator had defended himself with political cover from the president, the Congressional Black Caucus, and Rev. Al Sharpton. And the details of the Lott scandal might not bear scrutiny in a way that hurts Reid. In 2002, as the incoming Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, Steele called Lott a “compassionate and tolerant statesman” whose apologies were enough to save his job.

Right — and that’s probably been the most laughable and revealing aspect to this kerfuffle. When GOP strategists say the party is “ill-positioned to do much more damage to Reid,” what they mean is that Republicans don’t stand to gain politically from denouncing racism because people who tend to vote for Republicans care much less about racial inequality than they do the interests of wealthy white people.

Stupid Politico Article of the Day

Shorter Politico: “Barack Obama is Black”

Posted in Media. Tags: , , . 2 Comments »

The End of Racism?

On the networks last night and in the papers this morning there was a lot of — deserved — back patting about America having grown up to elect an African American. Thomas Friedman is pretty emblematic here:

How did Obama pull it off? To be sure, it probably took a once-in-a-century economic crisis to get enough white people to vote for a black man. And to be sure, Obama’s better organization, calm manner, mellifluous speaking style and unthreatening message of “change” all served him well.

This is half-right in that the economic crises proved politically important for Obama’s victory, but insofar as “enough white people” propelled Obama to victory, Friednman’s analysis is dead wrong. This graph shows whites and non-white as a share of the total electorate as compared to John Kerry in 2004:

As Matt Yglesias points out, “31.57 percent of voters were white people who voted for John Kerry in 2004. In 2008, the tally was very similar — 31.82 percent of voters were white people who voted for Barack Obama.” In other words, Obama won not because enough whites were able to put aside their prejudices, but because Obama dramatically increased the size of the minority share in the electorate.

There’s no doubt that Obama’s presidency represents an incredible step forward for race relations in America, so I don’t want to be a wet blanket, but it’s worth putting things in perspective.

Race Debates

There’s been a bit of back and forth today between former Atlantic colleagues Ross Douthat (conservative) and Matt Yglesias (progressive) over the role race has played in the election. Ross begins by arguing that there’s been far too much over-analyzation of McCain’s attacks, to which Yglesias replies that irrespective of whether or not the attacks have been racist, the Republican has a long history of dog-whistling these sorts of issues and that if Obama loses it will likely be because of racism, if not because of McCain’s attacks. Ross then retorts with this:

Consider, for a moment, that here we are, five days away from the election, and a Republican nominee for President has run a campaign against an African-American opponent that has barely touched any of the traditional racially-charged domestic-policy issues.[…]

[…]Now there are various reasons why none of these issues have played a role in the campaign:  Attacking on some of these fronts would have required flip-flops on McCain’s part; attacking on others (crime, especially) would have reaped vastly diminished returns compared to GOP campaigns of yore; etc. But it’s also the case that the Obama campaign (and its surrogates and allies) have done a masterful job of boxing the GOP in on race-related fronts, playing off the media’s biases, McCain’s sense of honor, and the Republican Party’s unpleasant history to create a climate of hair-trigger sensitivity around terrains and topic that usually hurt Democratic candidates. (Emphasis added)

I’m not entirely sure I’m willing to grant McCain the point for not “touch[ing]…traditional racially-charged domestic-policy issues,” in no small part because of the ludicrous ACORN/Community Reinvestment ACT tomfollery, but also because McCain’s messaging both on the air and on the trail has tried relentlessly to paint Obama as “other“. Now, I’ll concede that “other” doesn’t necessarily mean “black” (as opposed to Muslim, terrorist, etc.), but make a distinction risks seriously splitting hairs. What’s more, John McCain’s failure to condemn — with one exception — the ugliness, and at times, overt racism at his rallies, hasn’t really helped his cause.

Anyway, the problem for John McCain is that while not all Republicans are racist, it’s a tough denial that a) racists don’t comprise a wing of the Republican party and that b) racism hasn’t figured prominently in the GOP’s past. In light of this, it seems pretty unfair for Ross to make the argument that the “Obama campaign…have done a masterful job of boxing the GOP in on race-related fronts.” Rather, the GOP has done a masterful job of boxing itself in on race related fronts. Had it not been for Willie Horton and the GOP’s history of overt racism, there would be no reason to fear recrimination for saturating the air waves with Jeremiah Wright god-daming America. Pinning this one on the Democrats is pretty weak; you reap what you sow.

The Bradley Non-Effect

I’ve heard a fair amount of chatter recently — especially among my acquaintances of an, um, older persuasion — about the possibility of the Bradley Effect costing Obama the presidency. For the uninformed, the Bradley Effect refers to the 1982 California Gubernatorial election during which Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African-American, lost to Deputy Attorney General George Deukmejian, a whitey (Armenian!), despite a solid lead in the polls. The theory states basically that poll respondents falsely stated their support for Bradley in an effort to avoid appearing racist, but within the private confines of the booth, voted for the white dude. The applicability to the current race is obvious, but is there real cause for concern? Not really.

There are two basic and sound reasons to believe there will be Bradley Effect come November 4th (or even as early voting commences now). The first theory, basically, is that the Bradley Effect never actually existed. Read more here, but according to insiders of both 1982 campaigns, internal polling actually showed that Bradley was going to lose and expectations otherwise resulted from polling error. In addition, exit polls failed to account for absentee ballots. In reality, much of the swing could be traced to a shift in strategy within the Deukmejian campaign which produced a methodical closing of polling data. Of course, this doesn’t negate the role race may have played in the election, but it’s not entirely clear the Bradley Effect lost Tom Bradley the election.

The second theory is that the Bradley Effect did exist throughout the 1980s and into the mid 1990s, but that it no longer persists. A paper published through Harvard corroborates the dissipation, and the existence of a Bradley Effect, at least in several elections during the aforementioned time frame, is supported by this Pew Research report. While academics are not particularly sure why the Bradley Effect has disappeared, the evidence supporting this general conclusion is generally considered strong.

Now, Bradley Effect prognosticators in this election cycle tend to point to Barack Obama’s loss in New Hampshire despite having led in the polls by an average of 6.3 points. But, as Nate Silver argues, this myopic view gets the story wrong. In proper context, the variance between polling predictions and actual performance in New Hampshire (8.9 points) represented only the seventh-largest polling discrepancy of the entire primary season. Larger inaccuracies were: Iowa (9.8), South Carolina (14.3), Alabama (15.6), Georgia (21.4), Wisconsin (10.3), and Mississippi (9.1). The statistically undue attention focused on New Hampshire, in large part, can be attributed to the fact that Hillary’s upset changed the dynamics of the primary.

Finally, as with the explanation of Tom Bradley’s loss, none of this means that race will not factor in the election. It simply means that there’s no reason to fear an Obama loss will result from an accounted for cohort of closet racists.

Just a Small Town Girl

It’s becoming banal to talk about the ignorance on display at McCain-Palin rallys, and certainly, it’s worth questioning the integrity of this “Kauffman” character working for that Moooslim network Al-Jazeera, but here’s a slice of Americana for you. Courtesy of Ohio.

GOP Not Racist; Has Black Friend

While it would be totally unfair to suggest that all Republicans are racist, it is totally fair to note that racists comprise a very real element of the Republican party. Below, see a graphic included in a mailer for an Inland, CA Republican group that had only the good intention of “derid[ing] a comment Obama made over the summer about how as an African-American he “doesn’t look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills.”

I’m not entirely sure how much of this woman’s defense to quote, but rest assured she is not a racist: she once supported Alan Keyes. I’m serious.

The group’s president, Diane Fedele, said she plans to send an apology letter to her members and to apologize at the club’s meeting next week. She said she simply wanted to deride a comment Obama made over the summer about how as an African-American he “doesn’t look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills.”

“It was strictly an attempt to point out the outrageousness of his statement. I really don’t want to go into it any further,” Fedele said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “I absolutely apologize to anyone who was offended. That clearly wasn’t my attempt.”

Fedele said she got the illustration in a number of chain e-mails and decided to reprint it for her members in the Trumpeter newsletter because she was offended that Obama would draw attention to his own race. She declined to say who sent her the e-mails with the illustration.

She said she doesn’t think in racist terms, pointing out she once supported Republican Alan Keyes, an African-American who previously ran for president.

“I didn’t see it the way that it’s being taken. I never connected,” she said. “It was just food to me. It didn’t mean anything else.”

She said she also wasn’t trying to make a statement linking Obama and food stamps, although her introductory text to the illustration connects the two: “Obama talks about all those presidents that got their names on bills. If elected, what bill would he be on????? Food Stamps, what else!”

Nope, no racists in the GOP.

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