Monday, November 03, 2008

The War Within

Ezra Klein thinks the prevailing model of how racism might take the election away from Obama is non-sensical:
It's one thing to build a mental model of a quietly racist electorate. Under this hypothesis, McCain, a war hero and credible candidate, would see unnatural levels of support as voters who were turned off by Barack Obama's skin color pretended they were attracted to McCain's biography and political platform. But that's not evident in the polling -- or, if it is, it hasn't been enough to give McCain a lead. So instead, the model seems to be that a substantial slice of the electorate are prankster racists who have spent the campaign deceiving pollsters so that, come election day, they can trigger a McCain upset, destroying the credibility of random statistical sampling and really putting one over on liberals who thought this country would turn out for a black guy named Hussein. I guess that's possible, but it doesn't seem very likely.

Not to be a cynic, but that's not even close. What folks are worrying about is the voter who has some racist tendencies but, being a good American, finds them shameful and wrong, and suppresses them. One way by which to affirm one's not racist status is to express support for Barack Obama -- and through that affirmation you can persuade yourself, too, that you're not a racist. The question, then, is whether these voters will be able to pull the trigger in the ballot box. This is a battle of psychology -- the racist id going to war with the rationalizing ego and super-ego -- and it will rage mostly beneath the surface and in code. The voter whose id wins out isn't going to say to himself "I'm sorry, but I just can't vote for a Black guy", he'll say "I'm sorry, but I just don't trust the guy."

That's not to say that everyone who is voting against Obama because they don't trust them is engaging in justification for latent racism. The point is merely to show that we could see a noticeable effect from racism reflected in the final polls, without thinking that folks have just been playing tricks on the pollsters. The tricks are being played in their own minds.

1 comment:

PG said...

The voter whose id wins out isn't going to say to himself "I'm sorry, but I just can't vote for a Black guy", he'll say "I'm sorry, but I just don't trust the guy."

EXACTLY. Heck, after two hours reading conservative blogs and watching Sean Hannity, I find myself questioning whether Obama really was born in the U.S., even though I still haven't seen an explanation of why and how he would have been born anywhere else.

The GOP advertising is not oriented toward an honest critique of Obama's stated policies, because those policies are mostly centrist and quite popular. Instead, it reiterates the same message over and over: You Can't Trust What That One Says. McCain's most effective tax ads don't go after Obama for his stated policy of raising taxes on individuals making more than $200k and couples more than $250k; instead, the ads say that when you weren't looking, Obama voted to raise taxes for people making $45k! The fundamental premise of the anti-Obama campaign is that the Democratic candidate is a bait-and-switch: he'll bait you with a nice young man with a good education, raised by his middle-class white mother and grandparents from Kansas, offering basically the same policies as Bill Clinton; and then SWITCH to being an Arab, Muslim, Black Power, protectionist, socialist, anti-Semitic Neville Chamberlain. That's why Krauthammer keeps saying we don't really know Obama, why we get a stream of articles on Obama's associations with various people as revealing the REAL Barack Obama.

It's a way to shift the cost-benefit analysis, because unless you think the risk of Obama's being untruthful about his intended policies is quite high, it is difficult to make a really strong case against electing him. Pretty much every Republican with whom I have discussed this election and who still plans to vote for McCain has stated in one way or another that he does not trust Obama to do what Obama says he will do, either on taxes, support for Israel or some other issue.

And so it may go in the voting booth. The voter's head is agreed with Obama's stated policies, but at the moment she is to pull the lever, the accumulation of Fox News, blog rumors, e-mails and her own lack of experience in trusting black people will coalesce in her gut to change her vote from what she told a pollster.