Monday, May 26, 2008

Obama and the Racists

A bizarre meme that's been cropping up recently has been conservatives complaining that if they don't vote for Obama, they'll be called racists. Mark calls it "A theme I'm guessing will repeat somewhat tirelessly until November." Perhaps, though so far it's one I've only heard from conservatives complaining about it, which makes me suspect that it actually represents a struggle with their inner demons about what it means to vote against Obama. The social psychology research on these sorts of problems is fascinating.

But I digress. Of course it's possible to vote against Obama without being racist. There, are, of course, racist reasons to vote against Obama, and thus far it seems that much of the discussion on this issue has stemmed from examinations of cases where there is, in fact, good reason to suspect racism is playing a role in voting behavior (Appalachia, for example).
Pollster: It seems that racism played a major role in Obama's loss to Hillary Clinton in West Virginia.

Republican Voter: Are you calling me a racist!

Pollster: You're not a Democrat. And you're from New Mexico.

Some might say this is defensive behavior.

But I digress again! Some guy named Kender claims that, though he's not a racist, he's not voting for Obama. We know he's not a racist, because he says so: "I am not racist." My experience is that when people feel the need to presage their remarks with that comment, the likelihood they're about to say something racist increases exponentially. So why is Kender voting against Obama?
Now, I don't dislike obama because he's black. I dislike obama because he's a socialist and will lead this country down a very dark path, one we may not recover from, one that will destroy our economy, steal our freedoms and make us all slaves to the state.

Alright then. I think it's fair to say that if you believe that "taxation is theft", then Obama is not your man (nor is McCain, really, but that's another matter). Nobody would say that this person's vote against Obama is motivated by racism. Motivated by extreme and inane views about economics and governmental legitimacy, perhaps, but those are different sins. I question who, upon encountering a voter such as this, would say "were Obama not Black, this guy would be voting Democratic!"

So quit the defensiveness. Nobody's calling you racist except yourself (and I suppose Freud, by extension). We know that the reason you're voting McCain is because you're off-the-rails crazy.

Everybody happy now?


Anonymous said...

What if we don't wanna vote for Obama because we think he's been dog-whistling all over the place ("Clinton periodically feels down...") and hasn't been called on it by anyone; because his campaign has been orchestrating nasty sh*tstorms, like taking Clinton's Kennedy comments out of context, and nobody says a word; because he gets to sit back and chortle while Andrew Sullivan and other morons demand Clinton address the possible racism of some of her supporters and nobody thinks it's even remarkable that male voters are dismissing her out of hand (the news coverage always talks about women voting for, even though that appears to be a baseline more than a positive prejudice, never the more pronounced phenomenon of men voting against) and, certainly, this is accepted as normal -- who'd dream to demand that Obama address the sexism of his supporters? Or of the media? And, frankly, calling that reporter "sweetie," was just icing on the cake.

Obviously, I'm not going to vote for McCain, either. I'll probably just stay home.

David Schraub said...

My girlfriend read your comment and responded that you need to stop complaining and recognize that Barack Obama is perfectly fantastic choice for progressive peoples of all stripes. I thought she was slightly uncharitable. But I admit I find your comment rather unfair.

Playing the oppression Olympics ("sexism is worse than racism! Nuh-uh, racism is worse than sexism!") is a game which never goes anywhere because it's pointless. It also tends to only "work" via slanted argument. Obama never gave a speech on sexism, to be sure. But neither did Clinton give one on racism. Clinton's "dog-whistles" (Jesse Jackson after SC, the whole "hard working Americans, White Americans" bit) are quite prevalent as well. Your interpretations of what's going on here are quite charitable to Senator Clinton (the Kennedy quote was out of context!) and rather noticeably uncharitable to Senator Obama ("periodically"?), which should cause pause.

The point not being to play the other side of the Olympics, the point being to try and demonstrate the destructive nature of this "competition": how it breeds anger and parochialism and strife in progressive ranks. I'm sorry, but you are doing women no favors if you decide to throw Roe v. Wade (which is what throwing the election to McCain does) into a gutter because Andrew Sullivan is an asshole. Just who do you think is benefiting from this?

Mark said...

I'll have to remember that. Obama's going to "raise the level political discourse." You seem to be following his lead, eh? Gotcha ... "off the rails crazy" ... yah got it. What do y'all mean by improving the level of discourse anyhow?

Appalachia if following form (and the folkway defined by Fisher) is likely only racist in the sense that a misanthrope is a misogynist.

Anonymous said...

David, you (and the gf) are reallllly not getting it. I've encountered the oppression Olympics before, thanks, and that's not what this is about. This is about the fact that the candidate has not in any way shown his willingness to think about women's issues in any sort of manner that gives one encouragement -- and the willingness he HAS shown to resort to sexist tropes in the campaign (simply because he knows he can get away with them) is chilling; his treatment of actual women, suspect. Personally, I think the guy's a fraud -- same old same old, in a superficially different package -- as well as dangerously inexperienced, and, as I've argued before, I think a sizable number of people agree with me; to dismiss us all as racists is ridiculous.

I agree that staying home on election day isn't ideal, but I also think the Dems are taking women for granted, counting on our ultimately deciding to go for the lesser of two evils, and, frankly, I think we should stop rewarding the Party for this kind of behavior. Me, I'm hoping to get around the problem by moving to Europe, but I recognize this solution isn't for everyone.

David Schraub said...

Mark: I'm sorry that I don't (in my role as powerful Obama surrogate) treat those who think that guvmint is just a collection of brigands with the respect they demand and deserve. But somehow, I doubt ol' Kender ("If Barack Hussein Obama wins the White House we are doomed. Freedom, economic prosperity, economic mobility, individual rights and the ability to succeed will be a dream of the past. We iwll [sic] be locked into a world where we are slaves of the state....") is who he had in mind with regards to "elevating discourse".

Esq: I don't know why this post particularly sparked your ire, but I really think that you are engaging in selective anger here, and scapegoating the wrong enemy. I will tell you this: If McCain is elected, and we enter our 9th year of Republican rule, the message the pundits will sing is not that progressive women and feminists were not sufficiently courted for the political clout. It will be that feminism as a political movement is dead. I don't think you're a racist, just very, very short-sighted.

Cycle Cyril said...

This race has brought into view the inanity of American politics these days, more so on the Democratic side, wherein you have your choice of any two of the following: being anti-woman, anti-black or anti-aged.

But in another view a cycling buddy of mine, who's nickname is "Landlord", asked me which of the three Democrats would I vote for.

PG said...

This isn't new, just the more personalized version of the same whining that's been emanating from the right ever since they had to contemplate the possibility of a black Democratic candidate: "if we don't like him, people will call us racists!"

As I noted in January when Ramesh Ponnuru was playing that tune:

Ponnuru says, "The Republican nominee is guaranteed to be attacked as racist or sexist, no matter how innocuous his words." The subtext of this is, "The white male is guaranteed to be attacked as racist or sexist, no matter how innocuous his words," because the Republicans are only running white males, and because their base is, well, white and male. Never mind that the Republicans talked about Obama during the New Hampshire debate and criticized his policies as liberal interest group (Thompson) welfare statism (Paul) that would bankrupt us (Romney) -- oh, and he lacks national security experience (McCain) and executive experience (Giuliani), and he's not a Republican (Thompson). And I didn't hear anyone say these criticisms of Obama were racist, despite coming from a bunch of white males one of whom will be the Republican candidate, because they weren't racist. They were completely fair evaluations of why a moderate-to-conservative voter wouldn't want to elect Obama. I thought some were inaccurate representations of Democratic policy preferences, but none had even the faintest tinge of "because he's black." No one brought up Reaganesque specters of Chicago welfare queens in Cadillacs when they mentioned the welfare state; they talked about how Obama over-relied on the federal government to solve problems and didn't trust the free market and localities. Astonishingly, if you don't say anything about race or that's a codeword for race, no one will think you're racist!

Re: "periodically when she's feeling down" as code for "PMSing woman," Sen. Clinton would have to be having extraordinarily late menopause to still be on the rag when she's over 60. Shouldn't that dog-whistle have been something like, "West Virginia and Kentucky were hot flashes in the twilight of Senator Clinton's campaign..."? Andrea Mitchell and Nora O'Donnell criticized Obama's comment as sexist. If it doesn't count when female journalists call him on it, there's also Jake Tapper's ABC News blog.

As for male voters' dismissing her out of hand because of her sex, that might be a plausible claim to make about black men, who have been extremely supportive of Obama. (And about black women as well, who have been much more supportive of Obama than white men have been.) But in Pennsylvania, white men backed her by a 56-44 margin (almost indistinguishable from the 57-43 margin she had with white women), and in Ohio, she got 58% of white men.

I've heard men complain because there's a "women" section on Obama's website but no "men" section. Now I hear women complain that Obama is unwilling to think about women's issues. For my part, I'm voting for the Democratic candidate, whether it's Obama or Clinton -- not staying home, not voting for McCain -- because both of them are pro-choice for abortion, contraception and family planning information (unlike McCain), both favor equal education, employment and pay for women (unlike McCain) and both won't be getting running mates like Gov. Jindal, who opposes abortion even to save the mother's life.

The only women's issue on which Obama could be considered inferior to Clinton is in the number of women each employs in their Senate office. Even that edges closer to the personal than policy -- and Sen. Clinton's own husband relied for his political appeal to women on distinguishing between personal behavior and policy stances.

esquiver said...

David, I'm going to disengage on the main disagreement, not because you've convinced me, but because we both know neither is going to budge. But I must quibble with two side points.

If women caused Obama to lose, it'd mean feminism was dead as a political movement? Please. If women tragically put our own interests aside for the "greater good" of the progressive movement, as we've self-delusionally done time and time again, and elected, especially, an Obama-Webb ticket (see here for some good commentary), that, indeed, would prove the movement politically moribund.

On the other hand, if women finally demanded the Dems stop taking us for granted -- and demonstrated the consequences of the withdrawal of our support -- that, I think, would have real impact. Which brings me to the second quibble: such a thing would be the opposite of myopic. Yes, things would likely get worse in the short-term. But it'd be to the long-term benefit of women's issues to regain a power position in the Party, and such temporary tradeoffs, I think, I think, are sometimes strategically necessary.

David Schraub said...

Webb would make an awful VP choice -- I'm a Kathleen Sebulius man myself.

My suspicion is that if women "disengage" from the Democratic Party this election, the response of the Party establishment will not be one inclined towards reconciliation. And even if the power play does succeed (which I highly doubt), gaining control of a burning house hardly is to the benefit of women as a class (and in the meantime, Roe v. Wade's been overturned!).

PG said...

I'm trying to think of an issue supported by a majority of women that isn't also supported by both Democratic candidates. What am I missing here?

Or is the idea that the Democratic Party would be turning its back on women by nominating Obama about personality rather than actual policy? Hillary Clinton is married to a former president who perfectly illustrated the ability to be moderately feminist on the issues and a pig in personal life; I'm not sure why she should hold her opponent to a higher standard. (And Obama does meet a higher standard on both policy and the personal than Bill Clinton -- he put a lot more effort into tracking the effects of welfare reform, for example, which had a serious impact on poor women.)