Tuesday, February 12, 2008

It's not black and white

Michael Tomasky's article in yesterday's Guardian argued that Obama's fate depends on the white working class. Obama has the black vote, and seems to be favoured by college-educated middle-class Democrats, but white blue-collar workers tend to go for Clinton. Why is this? Tomasky suggests that white workers are "less moved by Obama's soaring rhetoric". Elsewhere in the Guardian Ewen MacAskill says that the "one blemish of the week-end for Obama" was "the imbalance of his support among African-Americans and whites in Louisiana". OK. This is going to be misunderstood, but the Guardian on Febrary 6 reported that, according to the Super Tuesday exit polls, 40% of whites voted for Obama (although he did less well among white women). Obama also won the support of 80% of black voters. Now the difference between Obama's level of support among whites and blacks may have several explanations:"soaring rhetoric" is perhaps part of it, the unwillingness to vote for a black candidate may also be part of it. But there are two sides to this story. Look at the black vote. Why does Obama clean up black votes? Are black voters judging both candidates on the basis of "the content of their character"? It is obvious, is it not, that black voters are voting for Obama in such huge numbers because he is black. Indeed, looking at these figures, black voters are much more likely to judge a candidate on the basis of the colour of his/her skin than are white Democratic voters. I'm sorry. I know how this sounds. I am a life-long lefty and hate racism. But look at the figures. It's not as if Hillary Clinton is a Republican. It's not as if she is a life-long opponent of affirmative action, and Barack Obama a life-long supporter of it. There is no basis in policy for such a huge discrepancy. Maybe Obama is the better candidate. But 80% (and higher in some of the primaries)? I don't doubt that white voters, even Democrats, harbour racist attitudes, and maybe this is more so for those without a college education, and on below average incomes. I am quite ready to believe it. But this is not a black-and-white story. And the absolutely overwhelming preference among black voters for Obama, for no other reason than the colour of his skin, is something that leaves me a little uneasy.

P.S. Further on this Associated Press are reporting that the white Democratic vote broke fairly evenly between Obama and Clinton in the Potomac primaries (although Clinton took more white women). But Obama's share of the black vote was even higher: 9 out of 10.
I suppose one could argue that - if there was nothing to choose between the two candidates - it would be better to opt for Obama, to make the historic breakthrough to a first black President. But what difference would that, in itself, make? After all, there have been two black Secretaries of State (one still in office), a black Attorney-General, black members of the Supreme Court. I can't see that, in itself, it changed anything. And is affirmative action a proper basis for choosing a President? Maybe Obama is the best candidate. But can 9 out of 10 really, truly, honestly, think this, judging both candidates on their merits? 9 out of 10?


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