Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Race Race

It doesn't come as a complete surprise, but this article from Yahoo! News about racial attitudes is a shameful comment about our so-called post-racial attitudes. Turns out they aren't very post-anything.

Antebellum would be more accurate.

From the article:

In all, 51 percent of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes, compared with 48 percent in a similar 2008 survey. When measured by an implicit racial attitudes test, the number of Americans with anti-black sentiments jumped to 56 percent, up from 49 percent during the last presidential election. In both tests, the share of Americans expressing pro-black attitudes fell.

And there's more. This week, Colin Powell officially endorsed Barack Obama for president with eloquence and reason. That, evidently, was not enough for former Bush Chief of Staff, New Hampshire Governor and present Romney staffer John Sununu. His take was that Powell endorsed Obama because he's black. So is Powell. In the small mind of a zealot, that makes sense. Not only is this offensive from a racial point-of-view, it is meant to reduce Colin Powell, a great military leader and public servant who actually enunciated a military doctrine that all presidents should honor, to someone who can't think for himself and must endorse Obama for emotional reasons. He's questioning Powell's intelligence. Bad move.

The strategy of dividing the country by race has been a Republican staple since Richard Nixon used the Southern Strategy in his 1968 and 1972 campaigns. Ronald Reagan endorsed state's rights very early in his 1980 campaign, and Sununu's boss George H.W. Bush famously made Willie Horton the face of black males in 1988. Racism was muted, for the most part, in the election of 2008 (many Democrats feared a Bradley Effect where people say they'll vote for a black candidate in a poll, but don't vote for them in the actual election) as the economy and a near-Depression pushed it to the background. But racism is alive and well in 2012.

Fortunately, I believe, this might be the last national election where the Republican Party's coalition of older southern and western white voters influences its policy choices. The country is changing demographically and the GOP had better nurture the few African-Americans in its ranks for 2014 and 2016 if it wants to remain competitive. I also expect Latinos like Marco Rubio to be the face of the party at the expense of Paul Ryan. Even young people might find a GOP message more reassuring if it wasn't so anti-black, brown and gay.

Despite these attitudes, it does look like the United States is about to reelect its first African-American president, and that means something. Obama doesn't betray a great deal of passion in his non-campaign face, but he desperately wants to win this election for symbolic and political reasons. A one-term presidency would embolden the racists to say that the US tried an African-American president and he failed. Two terms allows Obama to be an even more powerful symbol and leader, as he will now be president when the economy recovers, and the health care, Dodd-Frank and tax reform laws take hold.

In short, he will leave a legacy worthy of a great president.

For more, go to and on Twitter @rigrundfest

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