Wednesday, May 21, 2008

White, Working Class, Less Educated Voters: What's it All Mean?

It's gotten to the point that we don't even need to watch the post-primary election analysis that seems to happen every-other Tuesday anymore. We already know what will dominate at least the early discussions: “Why can't Barack Obama seem to win the white, working-class, less-than-a-college-education vote?”

It's as if this is all that matters in the election. OK, we get it already, Obama has had problems winning whites in certain states.

As a side note, MSNBC / NBC News points out that he does much better in states with almost no black population or very high black population, but just can't seem to win over white voters in states “in the middle.”

My question is this: when is the media going to move off of simply reporting these statistical facts or asking "What can Obama do to win over / connect with / convince these voters?" and move on to some real analysis? When are we going to really discuss what these numbers mean and what they say about American voters?

Yesterday I had an opportunity to see a clip from meet the press from a few weeks ago (usually I'm in church when it's on, and no TiVo for me). There was a round-table discussion going, and Gwen Ifill raised an interesting point. She noted that in this election, there has been a lot of talk about race but little talk about racism. (For the Hill-heads out there, I'm willing to concede that there's been a lot of talk about gender but less talk of sexism, but, still, the gulf is not as wide as in the case of race and racism.) Instead of trying to use Senator Obama's candidacy as way of claiming that a “glass ceiling” has been broken, or that we've finally moved into a “post-race society” lead by a new generation of wonderfully “colorblind” voters, we should acknowledge the ways in which his meteoric rise to the top of the Democratic party has exposed just how pervasive racism is in the American psyche.

Now, let me pause here to say that I'm not claiming that most American's are racist. I don't want to come off as saying that only racist people won't vote for Senator Obama. There are lot's of good reasons to vote for Hillary Clinton (or earlier on Edwards, Dodd, Richardson, Bidden, even Kucinich), and I suppose there are good reasons to vote for John McCain as well, although I've not yet been introduced to them. But, we must ask, what does it mean that so many white individuals, and particular groups of white individuals are reluctant to vote for the African American male that is all but officially the party's nominee? Look at the split within the white community (probably the most generalizing term ever): old vs. young; rural vs. urban; those who live in states with sizable black populations vs. those who don't; those without college education vs. those with college degrees; “Regan Democrats” vs. “liberals.” In each of these comparisons, Clinton does better with whites in the first category, Obama with those in the second category. Why?

Why won't the media go there? Why don't the ask the uncomfortable questions? Why, for example, don't they ask if less educated whites are simply less willing to vote for a black man? Last night I heard Chris Matthews (who I like overall but who still annoys me often) reference voters with more “traditional” views on race. What? What a load of crap? Call a horse a horse, call racism racism. To me, if you won't vote for someone because they're black, or are reluctant to vote for them because they're black, that's racism (except for those special cases in which people won't vote for a black person because they don't want him or her to be assassinated; that's not racism, that's fear). Everyone's quick to say that demographics may keep Obama out the White House. When is someone going to get some courage and admit that RACISM might keep him out the White House?*

And then, as I referenced in the earlier post, there's the racism we can't see. Think about how much easier it is to paint a black man as a crazy, black-power-obsessed radical Muslim super-spy. Lots of people won't vote for Obama because they fear his “Muslim past” and don't want a president with the middle name Hussein. This is not limited to this election. Remember how a little more than a year ago everyone was freaking out over Congressman Keith Ellison (Democrat, Minnesota) for being a Muslim. You don't think his blackness made it easier to paint him as “the enemy”?

But enough of my babbling. Do you think the media is letting the American electorate off the hook too easy? Leave a comment and let me know that you're out there, your reading, and you have an opinion.

* Now, this is different that Senator Clinton's not-so-subtle argument of a few weeks ago in that she essentially suggested that it was futile to nominate a black man for president because they country won't vote for him.Personally, I think in the right climate with the right campaigning, an African American can win. I'm simply saying that the media needs to put some pressure on the American public to really think about the fact that there is the potential for racism to determine the outcome of this election. American media, don't let us take the intellectually easy road.

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