Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The People and The Candidates

Guest-blogging at Matt Yglesias' place, Ta-Nehisi Coates makes an important point regarding the proclivities of Black and female voters to support candidates of their respective race/gender (he also notes that this whole discourse has taught us that Black Women Do Not Exist. Separate point).
This whole notion of masses of people "excited about a black president,"in particular, ignores the fact that since 1984, we've had a black person at least declare for president every year. In 2004 we had two--a black man and a black woman. I don't recall there being much excitement around the notion of President Al Sharpton, amongst blacks or whites. It's true that there is a great deal of excitement now about electing a black president--but that's because the prospect is Barack Obama. Ditto for Hillary.

This idea that Blacks are mindlessly flocking to Obama because he's a Black face (or women, to a lesser extent, for Clinton) is unbelievably patronizing to everyone involved. Blacks have proven themselves to be more than willing to vote for White candidates -- including against other Blacks (recall that Clinton lead Obama amongst Blacks early in this campaign). Same with women. Same with Black women for that matter (Carol Mosley-Braun all the way!). It is Whites and men who have historically shown far more ... reticence at straying from the bounds of identity politics over America's electoral history. The reason we see high support for Obama and Clinton is because they are both fantastic candidates.

Given that it seems Blacks and women have been far more willing to evaluate candidates "on the merits" than Whites and men, perhaps, come the general, we might deign to wonder as to the cause if Whites (I'm assuming Obama will be the nominee at this point) don't follow along. Who has shown the more neutral, dispassionate judgment in the past?

1 comment:

schiller1979 said...

There is at least anecdotal evidence that all ethnic groups have shown some tendency to vote for members of their own group. In my native state of Minnesota, for example, there were three governors surnamed “Anderson” within one 25-year period. (I like to complete that thought by saying that two of them were named “Elmer”, but that’s not quite true in that, in one case, Elmer was his middle name.) On the other hand, my current home state of Pennsylvania has a Jewish governor (and senior senator for that matter) with 2.3% of its population being Jewish. And that governor’s Republican opponent when he was re-elected is African American (10% of the population).

I believe it’s true that every majority African American congressional district in the country is represented by an African American. And in conformity with the interpretation of the Voting Rights Act, they are designed to produce that result.

My prediction is that Obama will get at least as high a percentage of the African American vote as any previous Democratic candidate, and that African American voter turnout will set a new record. We will, of course, see if I’m right. I don’t believe that by saying those things I’m 1) saying that African Americans are “mindlessly flocking to Obama”; or 2) being “unbelievably patronizing to everyone involved“.

I don’t think you’ve shown anything to support your assertion that “Blacks and women have been far more willing to evaluate candidates ‘on the merits’ than Whites and men“.