Racism in the Presidential Race

Democrats need to consider the monster behind the curtain.

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Corrected on 5/15/08: An earlier version of this blog post incorrectly reported the number of citizens who voted in the 2008 presidential elections both total and by ethnic group. Overall, 125,736,000 Americans voted, 99.5 million of them being "white non-Hispanic," 14 million African-American, 7.5 million Hispanic and 2.7 million Asian-American.

Terry McAuliffe, Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, was all over the cable news channels last night claiming Clinton's 2-to-1 win in West Virginia is proof that she and only she can win the White House for the Democratic Party in November—because of her support from white, working-class voters.

But an even more telling point about white, working-class voters and how some of them will vote when (and it looks like when, not if) Sen. Barack Obama becomes the Democratic nominee was made in an article in Tuesday's Washington Post. The monster lurking behind the curtain in the Democratic presidential contest is racism. Up to now, Obama's supporters in the extreme left wing of the Democratic Party have tried to ignore its existence. This article is proof that it not only exists; it is unfortunately alive and well, particularly in factory towns:

For all the hope and excitement Obama's candidacy is generating, some of his field workers, phone-bank volunteers and campaign surrogates are encountering a raw racism and hostility that have gone largely unnoticed—and unreported—this election season. Doors have been slammed in their faces. They've been called racially derogatory names (including the white volunteers). And they've endured malicious rants and ugly stereotyping from people who can't fathom that the senator from Illinois could become the first African American president.

It's ugly, but it's real. It's been largely ignored by the media as well as Obama supporters up to now. But the fact is there are a lot more American voters who identify with low-income factory workers than there are voters who identify with Harvard Law School graduates. My sad prediction: Assuming Obama secures the Democratic nomination, a racial chasm will open in this country that will rival the Daisetta, Texas, sinkhole in depth and the Grand Canyon in width.

Why did Clinton score her biggest wins (including last night's win in West Virginia) in states with large populations of white, older, less-educated, and in many cases rural voters? Why is she, yet another Ivy League, effete, intellectual female, such a hit among the working class?

Could the answer be the chimera of race consciousness, if not racism? Race consciousness, certainly, among these voters is a much more formidable issue than it is among younger, better-educated, urban voters. She's winning the former. He's winning the latter.

In Tuesday's primary vote, Obama won 26 percent of the white vote. He's been winning 90 percent or more of the black vote in nearly every state. Even in neighboring Virginia, he won 52 percent of the white vote. And this is white support from among the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. He is much less likely to be able to woo as much white support in the general election, where voters overall are a lot less liberal.

Now let's look at the numbers of white versus black voters in the general election. In the 2004 presidential race, 125,736,000 Americans turned out to vote, according to the Census Bureau. Among them, 99.5 million were "white non-Hispanic," some 14 million were African-American, 7.5 million were Hispanic, and 2.7 million were Asian-American.

It's a simple mathematical equation. Remembering that in primary seasons only the extreme wings of each party turn out to vote (for the GOP, the extreme right and for Democrats, the extreme left), if a relatively small share, say, 20 percent, of white voters will not vote for any African-American candidate, how can that candidate carry the Democrats to victory?

It is said that young Americans don't see race the way older Americans do. In fact, they grew up in such a multicultural environment, one wonders whether they see race at all, which is great and long overdue.

And certainly Obama has done more to energize young voters of all races than any other Democratic candidate in recent history. But can he motivate enough of them to overcome racial inertia among some older, white voters?

In 2004, almost 28 million voters ages 18 to 24 voted, versus 105 million ages 45 and older. It's always more important in a general election to motivate older voters than younger ones. Do the math!

Let me be clear beyond a shadow of a doubt. My point in this blog entry is certainly not to defend race-based political decision making. My point is to show that it exists and that it will, however unfortunately, be a factor in the upcoming general election, as repugnant a thought as that may be to the vast majority of Americans.

The 2008 presidential race is the Democrats' to lose, as were the races of 2004 and 2000, which they lost. The economy is the No. 1 issue on voters' minds, and the Democrats have voters' support on that issue. But one wonders whether in the excitement of the moment, Democrats are also overlooking the monster behind the curtain and whether that monster will be in full view come November.