Sunday, September 20, 2009
Earl Ofari Hutchinson
The bitter truth is that President Obama can’t talk about race even if he wants to. This has absolutely nothing to do with his mixed racial upbringing, or his straddle of many worlds. It has everything to do with politics.
If Obama spoke out on race he’d confirm the deep suspicions of the right that he’s a closet racial panderer, ala Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. He’d also get creamed as a Democrat who tilts to minorities. Democratic presidents and candidates Clinton, Gore, and Kerry in four presidential elections avoided that tag like the plague. It was deemed a political kiss of death. Obama followed the same script to the letter during the presidential campaign. He talked race only when he was shoved to the wall forced to denounce his former pastor Jeremiah Wright. That was the price to save his campaign.
Obama well knows that the GOP lost an election, but it still packs a wallop. It can disrupt, obstruct, and create chaos for his administration, his political agenda, and him personally. And it does it not only because that’s the warfare that Republicans wage against Democrats anyway, but because the GOP has masterfully reignited its populist base against Obama. The base is rock solid conservative, lower income white male loyalists, with a heavy mix of hard line Christian fundamentalists. Despite the GOP’s wailing that racism has nothing to do with the white fury at Obama, the final presidential vote gave ample warning that many white voters do not and will not accept a black president. Contrary to popular belief, McCain (not Obama) won a slim majority of the vote of white independents in the final tally. Obama bombed badly among Southern and Heartland America white voters. They gave McCain nearly 60 percent of the overall white vote. The percentage he got was even higher among white males.
McCain would not have been competitive in the presidential campaign without their vote. The flip side is that Obama would not have been competitive if African-American voters had not turned his election into a virtual holy crusade and gave him a record percentage and record number of their vote. Hispanic, Asian, young voters, and a significant percentage of independents, and progressives also gave him overwhelming support.
It's true that blue collar white voters have shrunk from more than half of the nation's voters in the past decade to less than forty percent in national elections. This hardly means that the GOP's white vote strategy is doomed to fail. Elections are usually won by candidates with a solid and impassioned core of bloc voters. White males, particularly older white males, vote consistently and faithfully. And they vote in a far greater percentage than Hispanics and blacks have in most elections.
Blue collar white male voters can be easily aroused to vote on the emotional wedge issues; abortion, family values, anti-gay marriage and rights, and tax cuts. GOP presidents and aspiring presidents, Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr. and W. Bush, and McCain and legions of GOP governors, senators and congresspersons banked on these voters for victory and to seize and maintain regional and national political dominance. It didn’t work for the GOP in 2008 only because of Bush. His mangle of the war and the economy, and the terrible stench of GOP corruption and sex scandals, was too much even for legions of traditional GOP voters to stomach. Their vote for Obama or more likely their decision not to vote at all was more a personal and visceral reaction to their horror of the mess Bush and the GOP made of things. The GOP may well be an insular party of Deep South and narrow Heartland, rural and, non-college educated blue collar whites. But this isn’t a demographic to sneer at. Their numbers are still huge.
The recent straw poll among religious conservatives which put former Arkansas Deep South, religious fundamentalist governor Mike Huckabee at the top of their vote heap as their presidential pick in 2012 should not be laughed off or ridiculed. Huckabee’s base will be the same conservative white voters who turned out in record numbers to put Bush over the top twice in 2000 and 2004. They haven’t gone away. And race always lurks just underneath the surface to add an ugly but potent color to their vote and national politics.
If Obama ran around and talked candidly about race or tried to spark a dialogue on race as some clamor it would turn his administration into a referendum on race. This would set the GOP counterinsurgency on fire. Obama can’t talk about race even if he wants to.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book, How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press) will be released in January, 2010.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Forget censuring Congressman Joe “You lie” Wilson. The Democrats should give him a merit plaque. His two blasphemous words was a dream for the Democrats. Rivers of cash instantly flowed into the Democratic National Committee coffers. It quickly made his almost sure to be beaten re-election campaign Democratic opponent Rob Miller, a serious competitor.
“You lie” Wilson did as much as the nearly 45 minutes of Obama’s reasoned and measured pitch for a compromised health care plan to help him win momentarily at least a big chunk of the public back to his side. His double digit overnight bump up in approval ratings was a bigger and faster reversal in political fortune than Truman’s presidential upset shock of Dewey in 1948. Two days before his make or break health care speech, things looked gloomy for Obama. His approval ratings had taken the biggest and fastest nosedive of any president in recent memory.
“You lie” Wilson for the moment at least brought out a rally round the president war hoop from the bickering, rapidly fracturing, groping Democrats. “You lied” also again for the moment put the brakes on the fast accelerating GOP’s counterinsurgency against Obama. In prior weeks, the insurgency had won hands down the public opinion and propaganda war against the administration. “You lied” Wilson even forced talk show anti-Obama ringmaster Rush Limbaugh to take momentary pause in his diesel speed Obama assault and attack Republicans for groveling to Obama. Limbaugh was apoplectic that congressional Republicans forced Wilson to apologize for his loose tongue.
“You lie’s” outburst was manna from heaven for the Democrats. It came at the right time, in the right place, with the right audience (millions viewed nationally) and against the right target the President.
If I was a conspiracy theorist, I would say that “you lied” had a check in the back pocket from the DNC to loose his lips when he did. But that would be giving way too much credit to the DNC and too little to the GOP. The GOP’s long history of shoot from the lip racist and homophobic slurs, gaffes, digs, and insults, always followed by the kind of wink and nod apology of the kind that Wilson gave to Obama was just the latest in the string of patented insults. The GOP has amply proved that it’s more than capable of shooting itself in both its feet and torso at the same time.
“You lie” for the moment did one more thing for the Democrats that they seem utterly terrified to do and that’s talk back to the GOP. The Democrats tottered on the verge of being widely written off in disgust as the party that badly squandered the political capital it banked from its trounce of the GOP in November. “You lied” instantly changed all that.
“You lie” even after the national firestorm is still doing yeoman service for the Democrats. Check his website joewilsonforcongress.com His apology notwithstanding, “You lied” doesn’t miss a beat on it, “ I am not sorry for fighting back against the dangerous policies of liberal Democrats. I will not back down. Will you stand with me today and help me fight back against liberal attacks by making a donation to my campaign?”
“You lie” is a Hollywood casting dream for the Democrats. Censure “You lied” Wilson. Heck no, the Dems if they’re smart will polish up a shiny plaque for him.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book, How Obvama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press) will be released in January, 2010.