Race and Politics

July 18, 2008 – Volume 18, Issue 25
Will skin color influence the presidential election? By Peter Katel


Sen. Barack Obama greets supporters at a rally in Detroit on June 16, 2008. He attracted racially mixed crowds throughout the primary election season.  (AFP/Getty Images/Bill Pugliano)  
Sen. Barack Obama greets supporters at a rally in Detroit on June 16, 2008. He attracted racially mixed crowds throughout the primary election season. (AFP/Getty Images/Bill Pugliano)

The once unthinkable could happen this November: A black man may win the presidency. When freshman Illinois Sen. Barack Obama was born in 1961, African-Americans couldn't vote in parts of the United States. Now, as Obama prepares to accept the Democratic nomination in August, he is running slightly ahead of his presumptive Republican opponent, Arizona Sen. John McCain, a 71-year-old Vietnam War hero. First dogged by questions of whether he was "black enough," Obama now faces doubts about whether racial prejudice will prove a major obstacle to his historic campaign, especially among white working-class voters. Nonetheless, Obama is likely to benefit from changes in the country's demographic makeup, which is growing less white as immigration diversifies. At the same time, younger voters are showing notably less racial prejudice than older generations. Meanwhile, some top Republicans acknowledge the GOP needs to appeal to a broader range of voters if McCain is to win.

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When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial, capping the historic 1963 March on Washington, he was talking about only the most basic rights. "I have a dream," he thundered, "that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.' "

Perhaps only in King's inner-most, private dreams did he even entertain the possibility of an African-American running for president, let alone being elected. At the time, standing up for voting rights for black people often meant laying your life on the line.

Yet, 45 years later, to the day, Sen. Barack Obama — a black man — is scheduled to accept the Democratic Party nomination for president. The freshman U.S. senator from Illinois boasts a relatively slim résumé for a major-party presidential candidate: before his Senate stint, eight years in the Illinois legislature and three years of community organizing. Where he most obviously differs from his predecessors, though, is his skin color, the result of having a black Kenyan father and white Kansan mother.

"A lot of black folks, myself included, occasionally pinch ourselves to see if this is really real," says James Rucker of San Francisco, co-founder of ColorOfChange.org, a Web-based network that aims to boost the political presence of African-Americans.

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain greets supporters at a primary night party in Alexandria, Va., last Feb 5. Some Republicans say the GOP must attract more Latinos and blacks to remain competitive with the Democrats. (AFP/Getty Images/Alex Wong)  
Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain greets supporters at a primary night party in Alexandria, Va., last Feb 5. Some Republicans say the GOP must attract more Latinos and blacks to remain competitive with the Democrats. (AFP/Getty Images/Alex Wong)

Perhaps adding to the dreamlike quality of the moment, Obama's almost-certain Republican opponent, four-term Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a white, 71-year-old war hero — is running slightly behind in some polls. But even if McCain later moves to the lead, Obama, 46, already has upset expectations rooted in America's complicated and violent racial history.

Obama's strong showing may be as much generational as racial. "We have more racially conservative people being replaced by younger people coming into adulthood who are much more comfortable with the racial and ethnic diversity that characterizes the country today," says Scott Keeter, director of survey research for the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.

Even so, most recent poll results still show a close race. In June, a Washington Post-ABC News survey showed Obama with 48 percent support, against 42 percent for McCain. Estimates of electoral votes showed McCain ahead, but by only six votes. 1

Arguably, Obama should be leaving McCain in the dust. A Republican affiliation is a ticket to the political graveyard these days, as any number of GOP politicians are saying. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich sees a "catastrophic collapse in trust for Republicans." Yet Obama and McCain are in "a very competitive race for president," Democratic pollster Peter Hart told The Wall Street Journal. 2

Is Obama's race — as opposed to his relative inexperience or his policy proposals or his personality — holding his numbers down?

A national poll in early July found that Americans disagree on some — but not all — race-related issues. Twenty-nine percent of blacks thought race relations in the U.S. were generally good compared to 55 percent of whites. Yet 70 percent of whites and 65 percent of blacks thought America is ready to elect a black president. As to the candidates themselves, 83 percent of black voters had favorable opinions of Obama compared with 31 percent of whites. And only 5 percent of blacks had favorable opinions of McCain vs. 35 percent of whites. 3

Obama supporters and the candidate himself are predicting that Republicans inevitably will resort to race. "They're going to try to make you afraid of me. 'He's young and inexperienced and he's got a funny name. And did I mention he's black?' " Obama told a fundraiser in Jacksonville, Fla., in late June. 4

Republican officials and activists reject the notion that race will be the deciding issue. "I don't believe this presidential election is going to be determined by the race of the candidates," says Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican frequently mentioned as a potential vice-presidential running mate for McCain.

Republicans predict, however, that Obama's camp will treat legitimate political challenges as racial attacks. "Every word will be twisted to make it about race," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a McCain friend and adviser. But GOP attacks on Obama on issues such as national security and the economy, he said, will have "nothing to do with him being an African-American." 5

Still, no one disputes that race inevitably will affect the election. Race has been intertwined with American history even before nationhood, and racial issues have figured in virtually all past presidential elections for the past half-century — before a major party had a black candidate.

In the politically crucial South — a Republican bastion since 1980 — most white and black voters (when blacks could even register) have always joined opposed parties. When the Democratic Party carried the banner of segregation, blacks tended to be Republicans. After the Democrats aligned themselves with the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the races switched parties.

"The majority [of Southerners] define themselves as conservative," says political scientist Merle Black, a specialist in Southern politics at Emory University in Atlanta. "White moderates have tended to be more Republican than Democratic; that isolates the Democrats with white liberals and African-Americans, who are not a majority in any Southern state."


Democrats Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004 each failed to win a single Southern state. But some experts give Obama a strong chance in Virginia — and outside possibilities in North Carolina and Florida. As if to underline the point, Obama opened his post-primary campaign in Virginia on June 5.

Obama's bold move exemplified the approach that has taken him further than any African-American politician in U.S. history.

Indeed, Shelby Steele, a conservative writer of black and white parentage, is disavowing the last part of the subtitle of his recent book, A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can't Win. Steele, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., says: "I underestimated the hunger in America for what Obama represents — racial transcendence, redemption. He's this wonderful opportunity to prove that we're not a racist society. I thought that would take him a very long way, but I didn't think it would take him all the way, but it may."

However strong that hunger may be, it's not universal. Hard-core race prejudice remains a factor in American life. If Obama wins, "We'll end up slaves. We'll be made slaves just like they was once slaves," Johnny Telvor of Williamson, W. Va., told The Observer, a British newspaper. And Victoria Spitzer, an Obama campaign volunteer from Pennsylvania, told The Washington Post of even uglier comments. "Hang that darky from a tree," she said she was told once as she made phone calls to dozens of prospective primary voters. 6

Obama argues that the country is indeed ready to rise above America's centuries-old racial divide. "In the history of African-American politics in this country there has always been some tension between speaking in universal terms and speaking in very race-specific terms about the plight of the African-American community," Obama said during a National Public Radio interview in 2007. "By virtue of my background, you know, I am more likely to speak in universal terms." 7

"Universal" now describes a far more diverse population than the white-majority/black-minority paradigm that prevailed only a few decades ago.

The U.S. Census Bureau calculates the nation's entire minority population — of whom Latinos make up the biggest single component — at 34 percent. "In a single lifetime, we will have gone from a country made up largely of white Europeans to one that looks much more like the rest of the world," writes Simon Rosenberg, president of NDN (formerly New Democratic Network), a liberal think tank and advocacy organization. 8

Still, old-school racial issues persist. The "post-racial" aura of Obama's candidacy suffered some erosion after a video clip surfaced in March of a fiery black nationalist sermon by Obama's pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, ending with the unforgettable: "God damn America." 9

After cable news channels put the clip in round-the-clock rotation, Obama disassociated himself from Wright's remarks. When that didn't calm the waters, the Indonesia- and Hawaii-bred candidate gave a major speech on March 18 in Philadelphia, in which he confronted suggestions that his childhood outside the continental United States, and his Ivy League education had sheltered him from the U.S racial drama: "I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy — particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own." 10

The primary contest was winding to a close. Inevitably, the Wright affair and its aftermath permeated news coverage of the final elections.

In a Newsweek poll in May, 21 percent of white registered voters said they didn't think America was ready to elect an African-American president, and 18 percent of non-whites agreed. But pollsters also tried gauging the extent of prejudice, asking white voters only if "we have gone too far in pushing equal rights in this country." Thirty-nine percent said yes. 11

And in Democratic primary elections in the politically critical states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, as well as in West Virginia and Kentucky, exit polls showed that Obama faced clear resistance among white voters with no more than high-school educations — the standard definition of "working class."

But a Roanoke, Va.-based political consultant who specializes in rural voters argues that Obama's race is a deal-breaker only with a small minority of voters in the Appalachian region that includes Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia. "There's one thing that could kill him — his gun record," says David "Mudcat" Saunders. "He's got to come to Jesus on guns. You start taking peoples' handguns, which is how the National Rifle Association right now is defining him — if he gets branded with that, he's done." 12

Obama may have weakened his case with rural gun owners with his widely reported comments at a San Francisco fundraising event shortly before the Pennsylvania primary. "You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years, and nothing's replaced them," he told prospective donors. "Each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate, and they have not. So it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations." 13

To Obama's foes, the comments confirmed their depiction of him as an arrogant and condescending Ivy Leaguer — someone who aroused class-based suspicion more than racial hostility. (continued below)


Whether Obama, who grew up fatherless and whose family at one point relied on food stamps, fits the standard definition of "elite" is one question. Another, say some scholars, is whether depictions of negative personal reactions to Obama as working-class pride are a cover. "I don't buy the argument that the racial argument is just a class discussion," says Paula McClain, a specialist in racial politics at Duke University. "For blacks, it doesn't matter how high you get. Millions of middle-class blacks still experience slights."

Obama lost Pennsylvania. But a Washington Post reporter traveling through its small towns found voters who agreed with Obama's basic assessment, if not with his wording. "People are sort of bitter, but they're not carrying around guns and causing crimes like he specified," said retired factory worker George Guzzi. "Everyone makes mistakes." Guzzi plans to vote for Obama. 14

American voters may be more nuanced in their judgments than some pundits think they are. And Obama's influence is undeniable. "No one up until this point has been able to change the dynamics like he has," says Hanes Walton Jr., a political scientist at the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan. "Some people would call it a sea change."

As voters debate the impact of race on this year's election, here are some of the key issues being discussed:

Has Republican Party identification with white Southerners cost it support in other regions?

Beginning in the late 1960s, Republican strategists focused on cultivating white Southerners. By the time Ronald Reagan opened his post-nomination presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Miss., in 1980 the Republicans' "Southern strategy" had virtually locked up the white South.

Sen. Barack Obama talks with construction workers at Indiana's University of Evansville on May 5, 2008. Although Obama has encountered resistance from white, working-class voters, 90 percent of the white respondents to a recent survey said they would be comfortable, in principle, with a black president. (AFP/Getty Images/Emmanuel Dunand)  
Sen. Barack Obama talks with construction workers at Indiana's University of Evansville on May 5, 2008. Although Obama has encountered resistance from white, working-class voters, 90 percent of the white respondents to a recent survey said they would be comfortable, in principle, with a black president. (AFP/Getty Images/Emmanuel Dunand)

The massive shift of white Democrats to the GOP followed Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson's victory in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, even though some Republicans say opposition to ending segregation played virtually no part in their party's takeover of former Confederate states.

But twin brothers Earl and Merle Black, white political scientists who've spent their careers studying the South, argue that the timing of the rise of Southern Republicanism was no coincidence. Citing data from a long-running research project, "American National Election Studies," the Blacks note that college-educated Southern white Protestants — the backbone of the Republican South — largely reject affirmative action and court-ordered busing to achieve racial balance in schools and say equality has been overemphasized as a goal. 15

These findings don't point to a vast pool of unreconstructed racism in the South. But they do lend credence to the view that post-civil-rights-era unease among white Southerners fits easily into the modern low-tax, small-government, strong-military ideological package that Reagan assembled and that his Republican successors have continued. "On matters of race, religion, philosophy of government, taxes, national defense and culture," the Blacks write, "[Reagan] gave voice to many of their most cherished conservative values and aspirations as well as their most practical and material interests." 16

Conservative Republicanism remains the dominant Southern doctrine. But some political analysts argue that its appeal is waning elsewhere. "The political views and social views of white Southerners are so out of step with the rest of the country," says Ruy Teixeira, a political analyst and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a think tank founded by former Clinton administration officials. "Voters of similar demographics outside the South tend to be a lot less conservative."

McCain, Teixeira says, "would like to move to the center," but most high-level Republicans are in sync, ideologically, with the views of their party's Southern base.

Minnesota Gov. Pawlenty argues that the GOP's nearly all-white demographics reflect no ideological or strategic intent. Rather, he says, "We had success on the traditional formula. Maybe we've gotten a little complacent; maybe we're living a little in the past."

Still, Pawlenty says, Republicans have become "purposeful about reaching out to include candidates who are women and from more diverse backgrounds." This tactic can be more successful than most people realize, he argues. "Areas where socioeconomic challenges exist tend to be heavily represented by Democratic officeholders, but they also happen to be areas that are not doing very well. I always say, 'How is that working out for you? Over time, if we show results, are you willing to at least be open-minded?' It's at least an icebreaker."

Outside the Republican orbit, however, some analysts argue that the party's chances of broadening its base are limited by dependence on its Southern base. "These people are anti-immigration," says David Bositis of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, "which is not the greatest thing in the world to be when the country is exploding with an immigrant population. As soon as they become citizens, they're registering to vote in record numbers. So the Republicans are putting themselves in a position where they're seriously alienating the fastest-growing population group in the country."

Some Republicans agree. Grover Norquist, a conservative activist and president of Americans for Tax Reform, advocates a more energetic GOP effort to attract Latino support and says anti-immigration Republicans aren't helping the cause.

"Some of the smart restrictionists, or 'deportationists,' say, 'Three out of four Hispanics are in the country legally,' " Norquist says. "They won't care if you deport the fourth one.' " But, he adds, the fourth one is "their relative or their neighbor or their friend. When you scare the one out of four, you irritate the three out of four." (continued below)


But Norquist disputes the view that the anti-immigration campaign waged by Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., and supported by other top Republicans grows out of the party's Southern history. Nor is the party's poor record in attracting African-Americans the result of any institutional GOP prejudice, he says. "The party has allowed Democrats to make that case," Norquist told a recent conference at the New America Foundation, a liberal think tank. "The modern black church became an organizing tool for the Democratic Party. The Republican Party needs to spend more time doing outreach and pointing out that the Democratic Party is the party that historically has played racial politics. As Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton have shown, they're perfectly capable of playing racial politics when she's running against Obama."

Can the Democrats attract white, working-class votes outside the South?

Near the end of her contest with Obama for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Clinton suggested that her race gave her an advantage with white, working-class voters in Pennsylvania and Ohio. "I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on," she said, citing an Associated Press article "that found how Sen. Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me." 17

Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., a Clinton backer and an African-American, later called the remark "the dumbest thing she ever could have said." Clinton herself agreed.

Still, the comment had some basis in exit poll data. Among Ohio and Pennsylvania Democrats with no more than a high-school education, Clinton won 6 in 10 votes. And in Pennsylvania, of the 13 percent of white voters who said race mattered to them, three-quarters voted for Clinton. 18

Near the end of the primary race in Kentucky, exit polls showed a high level of race-based opposition to Obama. Of the 20 percent of white voters who said race played a part in their decisions, 90 percent voted for Clinton. 19 (continued below)


White and black Democrats have diverged politically in the past, though not consistently. Since the civil rights era of the 1950s and '60s, the Democratic Party has become the political home for African-Americans. But even before blacks became a national political presence, the Democratic Party identified itself as the voice of working folk. But it also had widespread support from highly educated professionals, such as plaintiffs' lawyers, plus many Hollywood stars and Wall Street financiers. 20

Links between the party's well-heeled members and its working-class base began unraveling in the late 1960s. In his winning 1980 presidential campaign, Reagan further deepened the divide, cultivating white working-class voters who became known as "Reagan Democrats."

The extent to which race played a role in these defections to the GOP has been debated for decades. But there is no question the Republican Party played up resentment over affirmative action and school busing that was simmering among some whites. By the late 1990s — after three landmark Supreme Court decisions limiting the federal government's role in ordering school desegregation — some of that anger was dying away.

And President Bill Clinton's support for welfare-reform legislation eliminated another racially charged issue from the political agenda.

Today, sensitive to the possibility that affirmative action could reappear as an issue, Obama took care to say last year that he doesn't think his daughters would be good candidates for race-based preferences, given the advantages they're enjoying. Race-based affirmative action should become a "diminishing tool," he said, adding that white students from poor households should get some special consideration in school applications. 21

Democratic analysts who specialize in working-class issues agree that race can influence voting decisions, but not overwhelmingly.

"There are going to be people who vote against Barack Obama because they're racists — but I don't give a damn about those people," says Saunders, the Virginia-based political strategist. "We ain't going to get the racist vote." He adds, "I'm not saying that if you're a Republican, you're a racist."

Fundamentally, Saunders says, rural and urban working people — white or black — are subject to the same economic and social forces. "We both have problems with education, health care, drug abuse — they've got crack, we've got crystal meth," Saunders says. "None of us can keep our children in our neighborhoods, because there are no jobs." Obama can win votes, Saunders argues, by uniting blacks and whites around these shared problems.

But other trends run counter to the populist vision of a city-rural alliance, say some Republicans with expertise on the subject of working-class Republicans. Minnesota Gov. Pawlenty's four siblings are all "classic Reagan Democrats," he says, including two longtime union members. "They've morphed over the decades in their political views — they're independent and lean Republican," he says. "They don't want their taxes raised, they don't care for too much of a liberal agenda socially or economically. They don't want the government taking over the health-care system. My brothers like to hunt and don't like anyone messing with their guns."

The Center for American Progress' Teixeira, who has written extensively from a Democratic perspective about working-class voting, argues that Obama will be trying to get past that standard Republican argument. "His candidacy could revive issues about giveaways to the undeserving poor," Teixeira acknowledges. "But what he mostly wants to talk about is the economy, the war and health care."

Republican activist Norquist, meanwhile, argues against the conventional wisdom that white, working-class voters will respond to fears of further economic decline by peeling away from the GOP. Democrats, Norquist says, are the ones bearing the burden of political disadvantage. "They have a problem with the people they're expecting to pay for their trial lawyer-labor coalition," he says. "And a cultural problem, if you want to count stealing peoples' guns."

Obama has made clear how wide a gulf divides him from working people outside big cities, Norquist says. He cites Obama's widely reported and widely criticized remark that rural voters "cling" to guns and religion. That was, Norquist says, a "snobbish comment."

Is race a major factor in the presidential election?

Early in Obama's run for the nomination his mixed racial heritage, his upbringing outside the continental United States, even his speaking manner, situated him outside the "black politician" profile. The term "post-racial" floated through news coverage and the blogosphere to describe Obama's candidacy.

NPR commentator Juan Williams, a journalist specializing in racial matters, saluted Obama's effort to move political culture into a new era in which backgrounds such as his have become common. "If black and white voters alike react to Mr. Obama's values, then he will really have taken the nation into post-racial politics," Williams wrote. "Whether he and America will get there is still an open question." 22

Williams' skepticism turned out to be well-founded. In March, the video of the Rev. Wright's "God damn America" sermon surfaced. The condemnation followed a passage in which Wright enumerated the sins of past colonial powers, leading to a denunciation of the drug war and its effects on African-Americans: "The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America.' No, no, no, not God Bless America. God damn America — that's in the Bible — for killing innocent people."

Obama's Philadelphia speech, in which he said that he couldn't break with Wright even when he disagreed with him, seemed to put the matter to rest. But six weeks later, Wright reappeared on the scene. Speaking at the National Press Club, he stood by another sermon, given after Sept. 11, in which he had declared that the terrorist attack amounted to retribution. "You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back on you," Wright said. 23

As Republican politicians and political commentators kept those remarks in circulation, a Catholic clergyman and longtime Obama supporter, the Rev. Michael Pfelger of Chicago, poked fun in racial terms at Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton during an appearance at Trinity.

That episode led Obama to break with Wright and resign from Trinity. Both preachers' views echoed Black Nationalist views — concerning the drug war, for instance — that became commonplace in the 1970s and '80s.

Even so, proclaiming that America is suffering God's righteous wrath has never been a monopoly of black preachers. "I called down damnation on America as 'fallen away from God' at . . . national meetings where I was keynote speaker, including the annual meeting of the ultraconservative Southern Baptist Convention," Frank Schaeffer — an ex-evangelist and son of Francis Schaeffer, a founder of the Christian right — wrote in the wake of the Wright affair. "The top Republican leadership depended on preachers and agitators like us to energize their rank and file. No one called us un-American." 24

The argument by Schaeffer and others that the wave of condemnation of Wright grew out of a double standard may have encouraged McCain to break ties with two right-wing ministers — the Rev. John C. Hagee and the Rev. Rod Parsley — who had endorsed him. Hagee is a Christian backer of Zionism who called the Holocaust a divine tool for creating Israel, and Parsley called Islam a "false religion." 25

But McCain's moves didn't seem to take much weight off Obama. For his foes, the entire sequence of events served to link the candidate to old-school racial challenge. "This is a huge story because it contradicts the whole persona and appeal of Obama as a man who transcends race," columnist Charles Krauthammer told USA Today. "I think it ought to be explored a lot more deeply." 26

How openly Republicans might explore the race issue remains uncertain. Bill Clinton still hasn't recovered from the aftershocks of remarks he made after Obama's victory in the South Carolina primary. The ex-president noted, in what sounded like a dismissive tone, that Jesse Jackson had won that state as well. African-Americans accused him of deliberately lumping Obama in with traditional black politicians who never succeeded in gaining major footholds among white voters. Clinton denied any such intent. 27

Even so, Krauthammer's comments, and others, tell Democratic analysts that Obama will have to openly take on the issue of race once again. "I think he will have to give another speech, as in Philadelphia," says Thomas Schaller, a political scientist at the University of Maryland at Baltimore who specializes in the interplay between race and voting patterns.

Moreover, Schaller acknowledges that race played a role in the extent to which Hillary Clinton beat Obama in the Appalachian region — while he outperformed her among whites in the upper Midwest. Those results don't necessarily predict the course of the general election, he adds. Still, from a political-geography perspective, he says, "It's amazing how they really did slice the Democratic Party right in half."

American history may demonstrate the power of race as a political weapon, but Gov. Pawlenty says the Republican Party has no need for it. A majority of voters will reject Obama's "classic liberal philosophy," he says.

Obama's rhetorical skills give him an advantage over McCain, but McCain trumps him in accomplishments, Pawlenty says. "Everyone says they'll work across party lines; McCain has actually done so," the governor says. "Barack Obama has nothing in his record to suggest that his rhetoric of being a uniting force is consistent with his record."

Former Rep. J. C. Watts, R-Okla., who in 1995-2003, served as the lone black Republican in the House, is skeptical that race won't enter into the campaign. Speaking of a hypothetical match between himself and a white opponent, Watts says, "Operatives and consultants will say, 'You have to drive his numbers down.' Man will always do what is best for man. If it's a matter of making [the opponent] look like he's anti-faith, that's good, or making him look like a racist, that's good."

Consequently, Watts says of Obama, "If the political establishment doesn't try to put him in that box of being a black candidate running for president, as opposed to a Democratic candidate who happens to be black, he has a decent chance."

Democratic analyst Teixeira, however, warns against overplaying race as a factor. "I don't think race is an obstacle in nearly the sense it once would have been. Public opinion data show dramatic liberalization of attitudes."

Teixeira doesn't buy the argument by many academics and political analysts that explicit racist attitudes have been replaced by "symbolic racism" on issues such as public safety. "It's a different breed of cat than old-time racism, and probably should not even be called racist," he says. "If you oppose affirmative action, that doesn't mean you're a racist. If you believe blacks should try harder to get ahead, does that make you a racist?"

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Change in the South

Race runs through the history of the entire United States, but the drama began in the South. 28

Following the Civil War, the Republican Party's identification with Abraham Lincoln, who ended slavery, turned Republicans into pariahs among white Southerners, while Democrats became the political mainstays of the system of racial segregation.

The ground under this political arrangement began slowly shifting during the New Deal era, which began with the election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932. Roosevelt's overwhelming popularity lessened the Democratic Party's reliance on Southern votes in presidential elections.

After World War II, Democrats began openly embracing black voters — that is, black voters outside of the South, where they weren't prevented from voting by poll taxes and other barriers. In 1948, the Democratic presidential nominating convention passed a resolution supporting civil rights instead of states' rights — code words for "Jim Crow" laws mandating racial segregation.

In response, several high-profile Southerners founded the States Rights' Democratic Party — the Dixiecrats. They aimed to defeat Harry S. Truman's bid for the presidency in 1948. Dixiecrat co-founder J. Strom Thurmond, then South Carolina's governor, became the new party's presidential candidate.

Support for Jim Crow was entrenched in the South, but so was loyalty to the Democrats, and the Dixiecrats won only about 25 percent of white Southerners' votes.

The Dixiecrats' defeat gave the Democrats' Southern monopoly a temporary reprieve. Thus, in 1950, every one of the region's 22 senators were Democrats, as were all but two of its 105 House members. Similarly all Southern governors and other statewide elected officials and nearly all state legislators were Democrats, and 80 percent of the registered voters were Democrats. 29

But in 1952, only 20 percent of eligible Southern black voters were registered. 30

Civil Rights

The social revolution that would change the Southern political map took shape following the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawing segregation in public schools.

By the early 1960s, pro-civil rights demonstrations — and retaliatory violence — had spread throughout the South. In 1963 alone, Medgar Evers, the Mississippi field secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was assassinated outside his home in Jackson, Miss.; four young black girls were killed in the bombing of a church in Birmingham, Ala.; and peaceful marches by ministers and young people demanding desegregation were met with police clubs, dogs and high-pressure water hoses.

In August of that year, the Rev. King made his "I Have a Dream" speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which attracted some 250,000 people to demand federal civil rights legislation. By then, President John F. Kennedy had formally called for such legislation, abandoning his initial reluctance. But on Nov. 22, 1963, before Congress could take action, JFK was assassinated.

Kennedy's vice president and successor, Johnson, a Southerner who had spent decades in the House and Senate, steered the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to enactment. The law prohibited racial discrimination in schools, employment and in all facilities open to the public.

Southern Democrats in the Senate had mounted a 57-day filibuster against the bill. But a 71-29 vote forced consideration of the bill. Joining to achieve that result were 54 Democrats and 27 Republicans. 31

When the legislation reached the House (where it had originated before being modified in the Senate), members passed it on a 289-126 vote. On the winning side were 153 Democrats and 136 Republicans. Voting "no" were 35 Republicans and 91 Democrats, all but three of them from the South. 32

After signing the bill into law on July 2, Johnson told an aide, "I think we just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come." 33

The following month, events forced Johnson's Democratic Party into a second repudiation of its Southern political traditions. Delegates from an insurgent, racially integrated group of activists, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), demanded to be seated at the party's presidential nominating convention in Atlantic City, N.J., charging the all-white, official delegation had denied the vote to African-Americans. 34

Despite a compromise in which two MFDP members were seated, most of the regular Mississippi delegates walked out, along with most of their Alabama counterparts. 35

The MFDP grew out of the "Mississippi Summer Project," in which volunteers, including hundreds of white college students, helped African-Americans register to vote. Two of the white volunteers were murdered in Neshoba County, along with a local black civil-rights worker.

Spurred by the killings, Congress in 1965 passed the Voting Rights Act. Within three years, a majority of African-Americans in the South were registered to vote.

Republican South

The Voting Rights victory followed Johnson's 1964 election — in which he lost the Deep South states of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina to Republican Barry M. Goldwater, R-Ariz.

The failure of a politically skilled Southern Democrat to carry his entire home region signaled that — as Johnson had predicted — Democratic control of the South was eroding.

White Southern hostility to civil rights played a key role in the Republican ascendancy. Goldwater didn't proclaim opposition to racial integration itself, but he had voted against the civil rights bill — and made sure his Southern audiences knew it. "Forced integration is just as wrong as forced segregation," he said. 36

Just as important, Goldwater's ally in some of his Southern travels was ex-Dixiecrat Thurmond, by then a South Carolina senator and still a fierce segregationist. (After Thurmond's death, it was revealed that he had fathered a daughter with an African-American woman who had been a maid in Thurmond's parents' home.) 37 In the midst of the race, Thurmond switched his party affiliation to Republican.

Goldwater was the first Republican to receive the votes of a majority — 55 percent — of white Southerners. Since then, every Republican presidential candidate has outpolled his Democratic rival among Southern white voters.

President Richard M. Nixon, in his winning 1968 campaign, appealed to white Southerners' misgivings or outright opposition to civil rights, while avoiding depicting himself as a civil rights enemy. On the advice of Thurmond aide Harry S. Dent, for instance, Nixon favored some "freedom of choice" in school-desegregation plans and opposed mandatory busing.

Democrats were hobbled that year by the insurgent, third-party campaign of former Gov. George C. Wallace of Alabama, who ran a Dixiecrat-style campaign that drew votes from Jim Crow Democrats like himself. Thurmond, meanwhile, was campaigning for Nixon with the message that voters who valued the fading Southern way of life would be better advised to choose Nixon than to waste a vote on Wallace.

As the South realigned, the Democratic Party fought Republican expansion in the South by wooing African-Americans' votes. In 1976, Democrat Jimmy Carter — a former governor of Georgia — won the White House thanks in part to 82 percent support from black Southerners, despite losing most white Southerners to President Gerald R. Ford.

Once Republican Reagan launched his 1980 presidential campaign, he and the party took an overwhelming share of the white Southern Protestant majority. Most of its members now had gone to college and lived in metropolitan areas. Reagan's praise of low taxes and free-market capitalism, coupled with his patriotic rhetoric, found a ready audience.

The civil rights protest era had ended, but memories of the time remained fresh. And Reagan, Democrats said, seemed to exploit white resentment. In fact, in August 1980 he gave his first speech as official Republican presidential nominee in Mississippi's Neshoba County, where the three civil rights workers had been murdered 16 years earlier. Before an almost entirely white crowd, Reagan said: "I believe in states' rights; I believe in people doing as much as they can at the private level." 38

Democrats seized on Reagan's remark. "You've seen in this campaign the stirrings of hate and the rebirth of code words like 'states' rights' in a speech in Mississippi," said President Carter, whom Reagan was running to unseat. 39

After Reagan's two-term administration, the GOP became the South's dominant party. But the enfranchisement of African-Americans led to the elections of growing numbers of blacks, virtually all Democrats.

By 1999, 62 percent of America's 8,936 black elected officials served in the 11 states of the Old Confederacy. Mississippi, where 33 percent of the voting-age population was black, led the nation in elected African-Americans, with 850 officeholders. 40

Racial Politics

As civil rights laws and affirmative-action programs took effect, supporting "separation of the races" became unacceptable for politicians, except on the fringes.

But racial politics didn't vanish.

When George H. W. Bush, was running for president in 1987-88, his campaign ran a TV ad accusing Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, the Democratic candidate, of coddling criminals. The controversial ad noted that under a prison furlough program — begun by Dukakis' Republican predecessor — a murderer serving a life sentence without parole raped a woman and slashed her husband after being released for a weekend furlough. 41

The criminal, William "Willie" Horton, was black, his victim white. Official Bush campaign ads didn't feature Horton's face, though at least one commercial and some fliers produced by independent pro-Bush groups did.

"As a white Southerner, I have always known I had to go the extra mile to avoid being tagged a racist by liberal Northerners," said the late Lee Atwater, Bush's campaign manager, after Bush won. And Roger Ailes, a media consultant to the campaign (now Chairman and CEO of Fox News), said, "I did not do the Willie Horton ad. I thought it was a crude ad and probably would stir up the idea of racism with the media." 42

Indeed, Democratic leaders accused the Bush campaign of exploiting racist emotions as soon as the explosive Horton ads began appearing. Ensuing news coverage made the campaign's avoidance of Horton's photo irrelevant, because the media frequently showed the image.

In 1992, it was Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton who capitalized on a racially charged issue, criticizing a comment made by the rap singer Sister Souljah about the 1992 Los Angeles riots sparked by the acquittal of white police officers who had beaten black motorist Rodney King. Referring to the beating of a white truck driver, she said, "If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?" 43

She explained later she'd merely been trying to convey the mind-set of young, inner-city blacks. But Clinton equated the comment to what a white racist would say about blacks. 44

As a leading Democrat, Clinton was praised for drawing the line at offensive speech from one of his party's key voting blocs. Since then, a "Sister Souljah moment" has come to signify precisely that action — especially when a Democrat is dissenting from liberal orthodoxy about a racial issue. 45

Patriotism and Race

Meanwhile, Clinton kept the faith on a key issue for black Democrats — affirmative action. In February 1995, as he was preparing to fight for reelection amid the first stirrings of the sex scandals that would soon engulf his presidency, the future Republican candidate, Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, launched an attack on affirmative action. "Why did 62 percent of white males vote Republican in 1994? I think it's because . . . sometimes the best-qualified person does not get the job because he or she may be of one color — and I'm beginning to believe that may not be the way it should be in America." 46

Seeing a campaign issue in the making, Clinton ordered a high-level review of affirmative-action policies, which gave him the intellectual ammunition to defend them. "When affirmative action is done right, it is flexible, it is fair and it works," he said in July, promising to "mend it, not end it." 47

Political analysts credited Clinton with lowering the temperature on the issue to the point that affirmative action nearly vanished as a campaign topic. Clinton won reelection thanks in part to 84 percent support among African-Americans. 48

In the 1999-2000 presidential campaign season, race played a role chiefly in the fight between Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Sen. McCain for the Republican nomination — a fight that spilled over into the larger arena.

Bush and McCain backed South Carolina's decision to keep flying the Confederate flag over the state capitol. The battle pitted Southerners who insisted they were expressing Carolinian pride against African-Americans and white allies, who called talk of heritage a cover for racist sentiment.

Vice President Gore and his Democratic nomination rival, ex-New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, attacked the Republicans' stand. Gore noted the flag began flying over the capitol in 1962, during the civil rights protest era, "as a symbol of resistance to justice for African-Americans." 49

The issue might have remained purely partisan — except that McCain months later reversed course, saying he'd been dishonest. Though some of his ancestors fought for the Confederacy, McCain said, "I don't believe their service, however distinguished, needs to be commemorated in a way that offends, that deeply hurts, people whose ancestors were once denied their freedom by my ancestors." 50

In another blatantly racial incident during the South Carolina campaign, anonymous opponents of McCain used so-called push polling to suggest that McCain's Bangladeshi-born adopted daughter was his own, illegitimate black child. 51

A more recent issue with racial dimensions surfaced during the Florida vote-counting controversy following the 2000 presidential election. On Election Day the names of some eligible voters appeared on a list of about 100,000 people said to be dead or to have felony convictions that barred them from casting ballots. Exactly how many eligible voters were kept away isn't known, but the "purge" list, assembled by a contractor for the state of Florida, was disproportionately weighted with African-Americans — 66 percent in Miami-Dade County, and 54 percent in Hillsborough County (Tampa). 52

The voter-roll purge roused attention because of the closeness of the election, in which 90 percent of black voters who did cast ballots supported Gore. "They rejected the Bush candidacy in a resounding manner," said Bositis of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, "and the events in Florida . . . have convinced them that the election was won because black votes were not counted." 53

Four years later, Obama, then a relatively unknown Senate candidate, wowed the Democratic National Convention with a speech that touched on his biracial, binational origins, the ties that bind Americans and "the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too." 54

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Current Situation

The Women's Vote

McCain and other Republicans are effusively praising Sen. Clinton after her loss — perhaps hoping to attract the votes of her embittered backers.

Their bitterness is seen by some Obama supporters as bordering on racism. Even before she conceded Obama's victory, McCain said, "I admire her and I respect her." "She has inspired generations of American women to believe that they can reach the highest office in this nation." 55

After the last primary, McCain went further. "The media often overlooked how compassionately she spoke to the concerns and dreams of millions of Americans, and she deserves a lot more appreciation than she sometimes received." 56 The remark resonated with many Clinton backers, who said reporters were swooning for Obama while recycling sexist insults to Clinton.

Most of the anger at the media focused on television, especially cable TV news. News executives and journalists tended to blame the outrage over coverage on the fact that Clinton lost. But "CBS Evening News" Anchor Katie Couric agreed with the critics. "I feel that Sen. Clinton received some of the most unfair, hostile coverage I've ever seen," she said. 57

Pioneering feminist writer and activist Gloria Steinem argued in The New York Times in January that the obstacles confronting Clinton were just as big as those Obama was facing. "What worries me is that he is seen as unifying by his race," Steinem wrote, "while she is seen as divisive by her sex. . . . What worries me is that some women, perhaps especially younger ones, hope to deny or escape the sexual caste system." 58

McCain is hoping, however, that not all of Clinton's backers will remain loyal to the Democratic Party. The top woman in the McCain campaign, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, made a point of appealing to female Democrats in a June TV appearance.

"No one should take a woman's vote for granted, and the Democratic Party should certainly not take it for granted," she said on "Good Morning America." "I'm a woman, and as a woman, I'm really proud Hillary Clinton ran for president. I am enormously proud of what she did, and frankly, I have enormous sympathy for what she went through." 59

Feminist Democrats, meanwhile, have been cautioning that McCain would be a bad bet for progressive women. "He voted against legislation that established criminal and civil penalties for those who use threats and violence to keep women from gaining access to reproductive health clinics," wrote Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post, a liberal Web site. 60

And activist Tim Wise, who writes frequently about racism, authored an essay in the form of a letter to white feminists threatening to vote for McCain or to abstain from voting altogether. Black voters, he said, "would have supported the white woman — hell, for many black folks, before Obama showed his mettle they were downright excited to do so —but you won't support the black man. And yet you have the audacity to insist that it is you who are the most loyal constituency of the Democratic Party, and the ones before whom party leaders should bow down, and whose feet must be kissed? Your whiteness is showing." 61

The attention being paid to women's political power, meanwhile, may have prompted McCain's cancellation of a June fundraiser in Texas to have been hosted by former gubernatorial candidate Clayton Williams. During his campaign, he had made what he thought was a humorous comparison between weather and rape: "As long as it's inevitable, you might as well lie back and enjoy it." 62

Targeting Michelle?

Democratic strategists say there are clear indications McCain backers will target Michelle Obama on racial issues. The candidate's outspoken wife, who rose from a working-class family on Chicago's South Side to graduate from Harvard Law School, came under fire early in his campaign for remarks during the Wisconsin primary campaign.

"What we have learned over this year is that hope is making a comeback," she said. "And let me tell you something — for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country. And not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change. And I have been desperate to see our country moving in that direction and just not feeling so alone in my frustration and disappointment. I've seen people who are hungry to be unified around some basic common issues, and it's made me proud." 63

The next day, McCain's wife, Cindy, told a rally in Wisconsin. "I'm proud of my country. I don't know about you — if you heard those words earlier — I'm very proud of my country." 64

Since then, Republicans have indicated they will keep reminding voters of Michelle Obama's comments. In June, former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger introduced Cindy McCain at a fundraiser by calling her someone who is "proud of her country, not just once, but always." The audience caught the reference, Politico reported. 65

Most of the commentary Michelle Obama unleashed — not all of it unfavorable — didn't touch on race. But one sympathetic journalist did sense a racial dimension to the emotions behind Mrs. Obama's remark.

"A lot of voters did and will wonder: how could someone who graduated from Princeton and Harvard Law School and won a job at a high-paying Chicago law firm — who was in some way a beneficiary of affirmative action — sound so alienated from her country?" asked Newsweek Editor-at-Large Evan Thomas. 66

He cited her Princeton senior thesis, which examined relations between black Princeton graduates and the larger black community, and revealed the loneliness she had felt. "It is perhaps unsurprising that, for an unguarded moment on the campaign trail, she reflected the alienation she felt at being a working-class black woman at a rich, white man's school long ago." 67

Obama's thesis did, however, give rise to a slanderous e-mail rumor campaign — one with no apparent links to the McCain camp. The e-mail claimed the thesis "stated that America was a nation founded on 'crime and hatred' " and that whites in America were "ineradicably racist," according to the Politifact.com Web site. Politifact examined the thesis and said it did not contain those statements. 68

A subsequent attempt — also evidently unconnected to McCain's campaign — to attack Obama through his wife also focused on race. Conservative broadcaster Rush Limbaugh, blogger Larry Johnson, an ex-CIA agent, and Roger Stone, a former Republican operative, spread word by radio and the Web of a rumor that a tape existed of Michelle giving a talk in which she attacked "whitey." 69

No such tape has surfaced. After investigating, the Obama campaign said the rumor of the talk was bogus. 70

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Changing Attitudes

Students of political and social trends say Obama's candidacy both reflects and stimulates deep changes in Americans' treatment of racial and ethnic differences — and that the changes appear unstoppable.

"It's not just about race," says Bositis of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, citing growing acceptance of gay marriage among young people. "The younger generation is more tolerant. It has grown up with more integration. People under 35 grew up in a world where having overt, negative racial attitudes is not acceptable."

The changes in attitude reflect an underlying demographic shift. By 2050, whites will be outnumbered by blacks, Latinos, Asians and Native Americans, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. 71

Some Republican politicians see the changes as further evidence that their party is falling behind the times. "The demographics of the country are changing," says Minnesota Gov. Pawlenty. "That doesn't mean you change your philosophy, but our party is going to have to do a better job," including diversifying Republicans' largely white-male candidate ranks.

As the only black Republican in the House during his tenure, former Oklahoma Rep. Watts agrees the GOP should make a stronger effort to reach out to minorities. But he also questions whether politics is the best vehicle for social change, because parties exist to fight for power, using the most effective weapons at hand. "When people say you ought to take the politics out of politics, it wouldn't be politics if you do that — it would be jacks," says Watts.

The Hoover Institution's Steele argues that Obama is bound to disappoint those who see him as the one-man cure for America's racial ills. "People have the illusion that he will be the endgame in terms of our racial conflict. My feeling is that he will be another chapter. He won't resolve anything. White people will realize that a black man in the White House will not save them from the suspicion of being racist."

Steele's skepticism aside, Obama's youthful cadres are changing the national political dynamic, some observers say.

"What you're getting in this election is another youth movement," says the University of Michigan's Walton. "It's not like the youth movement of the '60s; it's in the political arena. The old notion that young people don't vote is going to fall on its face. Young people are not as consumed with iPods and videos as you think. They are caught up in this presidential campaign."

The excitement has caught on abroad as well, and not only among young people. "Everyone is, in fact, impressed with the historical moment, that it is the first time an African-American has won the nomination of a party," said Wamiq Zuberi, editor of The Business Recorder, a Pakistani newspaper. 72

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Is race an important factor in the 2008 presidential election?


Marjorie Valbrun
Journalist, contributing writer, TheRoot.com. Written for CQ Researcher, July 2008

Race is certainly an important factor in the coming election. Is there really any doubt that fascination with the presidential campaign is due largely to the fact that a black candidate has garnered support from voters of all racial stripes and is considered a viable prospect for the White House? This is not necessarily a bad thing. We Americans have been dancing around the subject of race for a long time, and Barack Obama's candidacy offers us a great opportunity to address it.

While John McCain is considered an experienced and able public servant, it is Obama who has struck an emotional chord with those who see his political ascendancy as representational of the American ideal. Many voters are excited by the possibility of electing the country's first black president and the impact it can have on American race relations and on the nation's image internationally.

To be sure, there are also many voters who are uncomfortable with Obama precisely because of his race, and they have not been shy about saying so. Democratic voters have even said in polls and interviews that they would not support Obama because he is a black man. Such views offer further proof that race is a key factor in the election.

Although Obama's candidacy has not been subject to the blatant and ugly race-based tactics that defined past elections involving candidates of different races, he has not been entirely spared of it either. (Who can forget the public furor over Jeremiah Wright?) Still, things seem different this time. Obama's avoidance of racially divisive issues signals that he is more interested in forging racial ties than in refighting the racial battles of the past. This gives voters room to write a new narrative about how race affects our politics. That Obama is a biracial, post-civil-rights-era candidate who pledges to bring Americans of all hues together has made it somewhat easier for us to talk honestly about what keeps us apart.

Pretending race is not an issue in the election won't make it so. Race has a firm hold on the American psyche, and Obama's candidacy has forced white Americans to explore their biases or fears and perhaps come to terms with the idea of a black man occupying the White House. It has also given hope — and some might argue proof — to people of color that the United States is indeed capable of living up to its most noble ideals about equality.


Grover G. Norquist
President, Americans for Tax Reform. Written for CQ Researcher, July 2008

Barack Obama will lose to John McCain in November for many reasons. The color of his skin is not one of those reasons.

Bill and Hillary Clinton argued that many white voters would not vote for Obama because his father was black, and this was offered as a reason for the superdelegates to save the party by snatching the nomination away from Obama and giving it to Hillary.

Bill and Hillary lost that argument. They deserved to. They were wrong.

In early 2008, the Obama groundswell was driven in large part by Obama's content-free call for hope and change and his presentation of himself as a post-racial candidate. He was not Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton. And if you supported his candidacy, you were making a public statement that you were post-racial also.

Obama faltered when the nation began to see videos of his church and minister that were decidedly not "post-racial." Obama attended a church dripping with racial grievance and bizarre hatred of America — we invented AIDS as genocide. And the replacement minister — who was white — was just as hostile to America as the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Then Obama announced at a billionaire's house in San Francisco that he didn't like a Middle America that was "bitter" and "clings" to their guns and religious faith. He doesn't like rural and suburban America, churchgoers and hunters.

Americans do not vote for people who express contempt for them. Hispanics do not vote for Tom Tancredo. Millions of Americans will not vote for Mr. Obama, the snob who looks down at them, their families and communities. He is a snob with a tan, but no one is voting against the tan.

In three years, the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts end. Obama says he wants to let them lapse so your capital gains tax rate will jump from 15 percent to 20 percent. The tax on dividend payments will jump from 15 percent to 35 percent. The top rate for individual taxes will jump from 35 percent to 39.5 percent, and Obama envisions a top rate of 55 percent by extending the Social Security tax to all incomes. A vote for Obama is a vote for the largest tax hike in American history. Also for liberal judges. And gun control. And vast increases in federal spending — beyond the Bush nonsense.

The Democrats often run presidential candidates like this guy: Dukakis, Carter, Mondale, Gore and Kerry. They lose. Changing the color of the liberal won't help. Or hurt.

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1948-1965 Calls for desegregation and civil rights escalate.
1948Democrats pass a resolution supporting civil rights. . . . Leading Southern Democrats bolt party to form States' Rights Democratic Party (Dixiecrats).
1952Only 20 percent of eligible blacks are registered to vote in the South because of Jim Crow restrictions.
1954U.S. Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education ruling outlaws segregation in public schools.
1963President John F. Kennedy agrees to call for a national civil rights law. . . . Assassination of Kennedy and black civil rights activist Medgar Evers and brutal police repression in Birmingham, Ala., shock nation. . . . The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivers "I Have a Dream" speech.
1964President Lyndon B. Johnson wins passage of Civil Rights Act. . . . Republican presidential candidate Barry M. Goldwater touts his "no" vote on the legislation while campaigning in the South.
1965Johnson pushes Congress to pass Voting Rights Act, initiating a vast increase in black voter registration.
1968-1992 Major political realignment along racial lines occurs in South as racial episodes surface regularly in presidential campaigns.
1968Republican presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon appeals to Southern resentment about desegregation but doesn't flatly oppose it.
1976Democratic Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter wins White House with overwhelming support from black Southerners, who offset his low support among white Southerners.
1980Ronald Reagan opens his post-convention campaign for president by calling for "states' rights" in Neshoba County, Miss., where three civil rights workers were murdered. . . . Reagan wins 72 percent of white Southern vote.
1988Independent groups supporting Republican George H. W. Bush for president televise ads featuring black murderer William "Willie" Horton Jr., who raped a white woman while on furlough; Democrats attack the ads as racially inflammatory. . . . Bush wins 67 percent of white Southern voters.
1992-1996 Gov. Bill Clinton, D-Ark., shakes up racial politics during his presidential campaign, temporarily eroding Republican hold on the South.
1992Clinton criticizes rapper Sister Souljah for what he calls racist comments. . . . Clinton carries four Southern states in presidential election.
1996Republican presidential candidate Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas attacks affirmative action, prompting Clinton's vow to "mend it, not end it.". . . Clinton wins reelection thanks in part to 84 percent support by black voters.
2000-2008 Racial politics shift as Republican President George W. Bush ends his second term; Barack Obama launches winning campaign for Democratic nomination.
2000Republican primary foes Bush and John McCain support South Carolina Legislature's decision to keep Confederate flag flying over statehouse; McCain later retracts decision. . . . Presidential election vote-counting marked by controversy over disqualification of some black voters in Florida listed as ex-felons. . . . Democrat Al Gore loses every Southern state.
2004Senate candidate Obama electrifies Democratic National Convention with a speech citing his life story.
2008Questions about whether Obama is "black enough" give way to skepticism about his appeal to whites. . . . Stung by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright episode, Obama gives major speech on race and history. . . . Republican officials fear political criticism of Obama will be called racist. . . . Obama cuts ties to Wright after provocative new comments. . . . Rumor that Michelle Obama condemned "whitey" proves fraudulent. . . . McCain bids for votes of mostly white women furious at Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's primary loss to Obama.

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Short Features

Obama draws wide support, but also disagreement.

Barack Obama has vast support among African-Americans, but that doesn't mean everyone agrees with him, or cheers his tactical moves. "Obama is a political opportunist who is driven more by interests than feelings," Marc Lamont Hill, a professor of urban education and American studies at Temple University in Philadelphia, wrote in March during a long-running debate in The Root, a new, black-oriented Web magazine. 1

When Obama first distanced himself from his former mentor and pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., Hill wrote: "By standing close to Wright, Obama was able to convince local people that he was 'black enough' to represent their political interests. Now that Wright is a political liability rather than a source of street cred, Obama has decided to throw his mentor under the bus to protect his own image." 2

Melissa Lacewell-Harris, a political science professor at Princeton University, immediately shot back, "I refuse to buy into any Barack bashing on this topic." She added, "I wish we could have a reasoned conversation about race in this country. . . . But I think it is somewhat unfair to ask Obama to perform this same function in the middle of an election with a racially tone-deaf audience." 3

The Hill-Lacewell-Harris exchanges reflect an explosion of political debate on the black side of the Web, which has been energized by the presidential race. One site, Black Blog Watch, simply alerts surfers to new postings. 4

Much of the commentary scalds the major media for their coverage of racial issues. "First Obama wasn't black enough," blogger and memoirist Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote, responding to a piece in The New York Times (by Times reporter Marcus Mabry, himself African-American). 5 "Then he was so black that he couldn't win the nomination. Now the question is 'How black is too black?' " 6

Writing from a liberal perspective, Coates argued that Obama has been handling the race issue just right: "Obama emphasized race about as much as most black people on the street emphasize race . . . the same issues that keep white folks up at night — the war, the economy, health care — are the same damn issues that keep black folks up at night." 7

Journalist Marjorie Valbrun questioned his decision to start wearing a flag lapel pin, after some criticized its absence. "People who don't support you are not going to be swayed by a pin on your lapel," she wrote. "I suspect they point to the flag pin as another reason that they don't like or trust you." 8

Some commentators are ranging past the views of black Americans, and past Obama himself. Author John McWhorter, a senior fellow at the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute, argued in a Web video discussion that some white voters were being tagged as racists simply for opposing Obama on the grounds that his appointees would run to the likes of Black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan. "That's not, to me, racism," said McWhorter, who brutally critiqued hip-hop culture. "That's a kind of ignorance, [a] kind of grand view of history that doesn't take detail into account. But that person doesn't hate black people." 9

In an exchange on The New York Times' Bloggingheads Web site, McWhorter's discussion partner, Brown University economist Glenn Loury, agreed, taking McWhorter's point even further. "Race is a central aspect of my being," said Loury, a conservative turned liberal. "Am I willing to grant that some whites might have their 'race' — I use the word with inverted commas — also to be a constituent aspect of how they understand themselves? . . . How can you have the blackness genie out of the bottle . . . and not have the whiteness genie out of the bottle?" 10

Others in the black commentariat were focusing on another kind of white genie.

"Jill Tubman," a pseudonymous blogger on the Jack and Jill Politics site, echoed another black Web commentator who ridiculed the discredited rumor that Michelle Obama had denounced "whitey." Citing a sitcom from the 1970s, Tubman noted, "The only person I ever heard saying 'honkey' or 'whitey' growing up was George Jefferson on TV. . . . This rumor was started probably by someone who wasn't black." 11

Black Agenda Report publishes blog-style pieces and longer articles that grow out of left-wing and sometimes black nationalist perspectives. "To make himself acceptable to whites, Obama finds it necessary to shout out how unacceptable he finds the conduct of other Blacks," the site's executive editor, veteran journalist Glen Ford, wrote about Obama's denunciation of male irresponsibility — explicitly including black males. "Can one imagine Obama or any other presidential aspirant repeatedly hectoring any other ethnic group on moral issues? . . . But there are large regions of the white body politic in which it is not only acceptable, but damn near required, that politicians demonstrate their impatience with the alleged moral shortcomings of Black people." 12

Clearly, whatever the effects of Obama's candidacy on black America, promoting lockstep conformity isn't one of them. One of his toughest, politically conservative critics sees political diversity on the upswing among African-Americans. And he says it promotes — rather than weakens — black identity.

"What black America needs more than anything is individuals," says Shelby Steele, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. "In white America there is this clear right and left division, and people on both sides have legitimacy. We're just getting there in black America, but we are getting there. So I feel very much a member of the group."

[1] See Marc Lamont Hill, "Obama's Response to Jeremiah Wright," The Root, March 17, 2008, http://blogs.theroot.com/blogs/downfromthetower/archive/2008/03/17/obama-s-response-to-jeremiah-wright.aspx.

[2] Ibid.

[3] See Melissa Harris-Lacewell, "Obama's Response to Wright [Response]," The Root, March 18, 2008, http://blogs.theroot.com/blogs/downfromthetower/archive/2008/03/18/obama-s-response-to-wright-response.aspx.

[4] See Courtney Payne, Black Blog Watch, www.blackblogwatch.com/v1/index.cfm.

[5] See Marcus Mabry, "Where Whites Draw the Line," The New York Times, June 2008, www.nytimes.com/2008/06/08/weekinreview/08mabry.html?_r=1&ref=weekinreview∨efslogin.

[6] See Ta-Nehisi Coates, Message to the White Man: We're not Thinking About You, blog, June 8, 2008, www.ta-nehisi.com/2008/06/message-to-the-white-man-were-not-thinking-about-you.html. Coates is author of The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood (2008).

[7] Ibid.

[8] See Marjorie Valbrun, "A Flag Pin? Come On!" The Root, May 16, 2008, www.theroot.com/id/46544.

[9] "Bloggingheads: Is Racism Over?" The New York Times video, undated, http://video.on.nytimes.com/?fr_story=4044856890331225e87fadb6969199e3e28a70c8.

[10] Ibid.

[11] See Jill Tubman, "Black People Just Don't Say Whitey . . . Ever," Jack and Jill Politics, June 19, 2008, www.jackandjillpolitics.com/2008/06/black-people-just-dont-say-whiteyever/.

[12] See Glen Ford, "Obama Insults Half a Race," Black Agenda Report, June 18, 2008, www.blackagendareport.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=661&Itemid=1.

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But their voting strength lags.

Barack Obama is poised to hand African-Americans a victory in their centuries-old fight for a place in the political sun. But if he wins, it may be voters from another minority group — Latinos — who put him over the top.

Both Obama and Republican nominee John McCain are angling for Latino votes. In early July, Obama was leading McCain among Hispanic voters. McCain himself has a pro-immigration record, but that sets him apart from many in his party.

Other pro-immigration Republicans acknowledge the handicap. "If politicians want to deport your mother, people get this odd view that you don't like them," says veteran GOP strategist Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.

For his part, Obama consistently trailed his primary opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton, among Latinos. But a summary of May surveys showed Obama registering 62 percent nationwide support among Hispanics nationwide, vs. 29 percent for McCain. 13

More important, perhaps, Obama was ahead in key swing states. In New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada, as well as Arizona, he was leading McCain 57 percent to 31 percent. 14

In these states, Hispanics make up sizable shares of the registered voter populations. Hence, Latinos are seen as critical to both parties' fortunes in the swing states (Arizona occupies a special category because it's McCain's home state, where he has enjoyed strong support in the past from Hispanic constituents). In Colorado and Nevada, Hispanics make up 12 percent of the electorate and 37 percent in New Mexico. 15

In Florida, another possible swing state, where Hispanics account for 14 percent of the voting population, the odds appear tougher for Obama. A poll showed Obama and McCain running virtually even, at 43 percent-42 percent. Cuban-Americans — 45 percent of Florida's Hispanic electorate — traditionally favor Republicans. However, the Cuban-Americans' presence is lessening; they accounted for 90 percent of Florida Hispanic votes in 1988. 16

Because large numbers of Cuban-Americans vote — a 70 percent turnout is routine — and because they typically vote as a bloc, national interest in Hispanic voting has centered on South Florida. 17

Along with Latinos' concentration in some key states, their new status as the nation's biggest minority — there are 45.5 million Latinos vs. 40.7 million African-Americans — has given them increased attention this presidential season. Nonetheless, Hispanic voting strength lags behind that of the black population. 18

The nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center calculates there were 24 million eligible African-American voters in 2007, or 66 percent of the black population. Among Hispanics, only 40 percent of the Hispanic population — 18 million people — were eligible to vote. The reasons for the low percentage of eligible voters: More than one-third of the Hispanic population is under age 18, and 26 percent aren't citizens. 19 In addition, Latinos (Cuban-Americans excepted) have a weak voting record. In 2004, 47 percent of Latinos nationwide turned out, in contrast with 64 percent for the population as a whole. 20

"We recognize we must work very hard . . . to do better with Latino voters in the general election," said Federico Peña, an Obama supporter and past secretary of Transportation and Energy in President Bill Clinton's administration. 21

Tensions between Hispanics and African-Americans could prove problematic as well for the Democrats. A survey late last year showed 44 percent of Latinos reporting they feared blacks "because they are responsible for most of the crime" (50 percent disagreed). And 51 percent of blacks said Latinos were taking jobs, housing and political power from African-Americans (45 percent disagreed). 22

"There's a lot of angst among blacks about Latinos moving in," says Paula McClain, a Duke University political scientist. But she adds that African-Americans tend not to support anti-immigration activists. "The notion of who's an American — black Americans have dealt with that," she says. "Historically, to be American meant to be white."

Cubans in Miami celebrate on Aug. 1, 2006, after Fidel Castro temporarily handed over power to his brother Raul. (Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla)  
Cubans in Miami celebrate on Aug. 1, 2006, after Fidel Castro temporarily handed over power to his brother Raul. (Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla)

McCain hasn't associated himself with the immigration-restriction strain of the political culture, either. He even joined with Democratic icon Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., on a bill that would have allowed illegal immigrants to apply for legal status.

Since then, McCain has said border security must come first. But he's never endorsed the views of Reps. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., who pushed legislation to build a wall along the Mexican border, and James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who tried to make entering the country illegally a felony. 23 Their "strategy has been seen by Hispanics as not just anti-undocumented immigrant but anti-Hispanic," says Simon Rosenberg, president of NDN, a think tank and advocacy organization linked to the Democratic Party.

Latinos tend to rate McCain highly as an individual, says Sergio Bendixen, a Miami-based Democratic pollster specializing in the Latino population. However, "He is definitely not hanging around with people that the Hispanic community respects," Bendixen says, citing the old saw, "Tell me who you go around with, and I'll tell you who you are."

An anti-immigration stance will turn off most Latino voters, Bendixen says, but, beyond that, immigration isn't their main concern. The substantive issues are health insurance, the economy and the Iraq war — all matters on which Hispanics had rated Obama's primary opponent, Hillary Clinton, more highly than Obama. But, Bendixen says, "The issues are so powerful that they are overwhelming whatever lack of comfort or lack of familiarity the Hispanic electorate might have with Sen. Obama."

[13] See Peter Wallsten, "Obama leads in battle for Latino vote," Los Angeles Times, June 6, 2008, www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-na-latinos6-2008jun06,0,5793717.story.

[14] See "Latino voters favor Obama over McCain, according to UW pollsters," University of Washington, June 16, 2008, http://uwnews.washington.edu/ni/article.asp?articleID=42497.

[15] See Paul Taylor and Richard Fry, "Hispanics and the 2008 Election: A Swing Vote?" Pew Hispanic Center, Dec. 6, 2007, p. ii, pewhispanic.org/files/reports/83.pdf.

[16] Ibid.; see also Tal Abbady, "Cuban-American voters make South Florida a logical stop," South Florida Sun-Sentinel, www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/cuba/sfl-flrndcuba20sbmay20,0,3422003.story.

[17] Ibid.

[18] See Howard Witt, "Latinos still the largest, fastest-growing minority," Los Angeles Times, May 1, 2008, p. A18.

[19] See Taylor and Fry, op. cit., pp. 13-15.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Quoted in Alec MacGillis, "Obama Campaign Redoubles Efforts to Reach Hispanic Voters," The Washington Post, May 25, 2008, p. A1.

[22] See "Deep Divisions, Shared Destiny: A Poll of African Americans, Hispanics and Asian Americans on Race Relations," New American Media, Dec. 12, 2007, pp. 3, 9-10, http://media.newamericamedia.org/images/polls/race/exec_summary.pdf. The survey was conducted for New American Media, a San Francisco-based alliance of ethnic news organizations.

[23] See Kathy Kiely, "GOP leaders oppose immigration felony," USA Today, April 4, 2006, www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2006-04-12-immigration-congress_x.htm. For background, see Alan Greenblatt, "Immigration Debate," CQ Researcher, Feb. 1, 2008, pp. 97-120.

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Black, Earl, and Merle Black , Divided America: The Ferocious Power Struggle in American Politics , Simon & Schuster, 2007. Twin-brother political scientists analyze 21st-century political polarization, including its racial dimension.

Obama, Barack , Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance , Crown, 2007 (new edition). Originally published in 1995, the now-presumptive Democratic candidate tells of his search for a place in American culture.

Schaller, Thomas F. , Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South , Simon & Schuster, 2008. A University of Maryland political scientist says changing demographics allow the Democrats to win the West.

Steele, Shelby , A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why he Can't Win , Free Press, 2008. A conservative who shares Obama's mixed racial heritage says Obama is trapped by liberal political culture, which requires him to mask his beliefs to fit the definition of a black politician.


Bello, Marisol , "Blacks come to terms with Obama-Wright schism," USA Today, May 5, 2008, p. A6. African-American churchgoers reflect a variety of opinions concerning the Rev. Wright's effect on Obama's campaign.

Kronholz, June , "Racial Identity's Gray Area," The Wall Street Journal, June 12, 2008, p. A10. Obama's mixed racial ancestry reflects the growing diversity of a country where Italians, Slavs and other non-Anglo Saxon peoples used to have to argue to be classified as "white."

McWhorter, John , "Racism in Retreat," The New York Sun, June 5, 2008, www.nysun.com/opinion/racism-in-retreat/79355/. An African-American author argues Obama's success so far shows that racism is eroding, even if it hasn't disappeared.

Merida, Kevin , "Incidents Give Some Obama Campaigners Pause," The Washington Post, May 13, 2008, p. A1. Obama campaign workers tell of running into frank expressions of racial prejudice.

Mirengoff, Paul , "Loathing of Fear on the Campaign Trail, Part One," Power Line blog, May 14, 2008. A conservative blogger rebuts Democratic conventional wisdom that the Republican Party exploits race-based fears.

Rohter, Larry, and Michael Luo , "Groups Respond to Obama's Call for National Discussion About Race," The New York Times, March 20, 2008, p. A21. Campaign reporters find Obama's call for dialogue to be generally well-received.

Rosenbaum, Ron , "In Praise of Liberal Guilt," Slate, May 22, 2008, www.slate.com/id/2191906/. The author of a book on Hitler and evil argues that conservatives who mock liberals' sensitivity to U.S. racial history are disregarding the moral value of acknowledging guilt.

Schone, Mark , "What role did race play with white Democrats?" Salon, June 3, 2008, www.salon.com/news/feature/2008/06/03/roundtable/index.html. The liberal Web magazine sponsors a debate about the extent to which white voters are racist.

Thomas, Evan , "A Memo to Senator Obama," Newsweek, June 2, 2008, p. 21. The lead story in a cover report on race in the presidential election says race still haunts American politics.

VandeHei, Jim, and John F. Harris , "Racial problems transcend Wright," Politico, March 19, 2008. Top political reporters conclude that Obama's acclaimed Philadelphia speech didn't resolve all his racial problems.

Reports and Studies

"Deep Divisions, Shared Destiny," New American Media, Dec. 12, 2007, http://media.newamericamedia.org/images/polls/race/exec_summary.pdf. A report on relations between African-Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans shows tensions, but also a sense of solidarity.

"Obama Weathers the Wright Storm, Clinton Faces Credibility Problem," The Pew Research Center for People and the Press, March 27, 2008, http://people-press.org/reports/pdf/407.pdf. Obama's handling of the Rev. Wright drama won him a largely favorable response, the nonpartisan Pew report concludes.

"Race, Class & Obama," Princeton Survey Research Associates International, April 26, 2008, www.newsweek.com/id/138462. Taken for Newsweek before the end of the primaries, the poll showed Obama suffering the effects of the Wright episode and facing relatively low support among white working-class voters — but not because of racial prejudice.

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The Next Step


Hendricks, Tyche, and Anastasia Ustinova , "Super Tuesday a Watershed for Latino Voters," The San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 7, 2008, p. A12. A surge in new citizenship and voter registration will make the presidential election a turning point in national Latino political influence.

Issenberg, Sasha , "Candidates Talk Up Latino Connections," Boston Globe, July 9, 2008, p. A2. Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain are challenging each other's commitment to the failed immigration compromise of 2007.

Ramirez, Margaret , "Latinos Courted As Wild Card Among Shifting Evangelical Voters," Chicago Tribune, Jan. 29, 2008, p. A6. Sen. John McCain has been seeking advice over how to capture the nation's surging Latino evangelical vote.

Presidential Election

"Obama Isn't 'the Black Candidate,' " editorial, The Christian Science Monitor, Jan. 28, 2008, p. 8. Obama's ability to cut across racial and gender lines in the South is a result of his message of change more than his skin color.

Gammage, Jeff, and Dwight Ott , "A Race Not Just About Race," The Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan. 13, 2008, p. A1. Barack Obama is the first black man with a realistic chance at winning the presidency, so long as America is willing to elect a minority.

Kyles, Kyra , "Vote Shouldn't Focus on Race or Gender," Chicago Tribune, Feb. 1, 2008, p. A4. Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton are continually being judged on the clueless criteria of race and gender.

Oberman, Mira , "Clinton Backer Quits Over Race Row," Agence France-Presse, March 13, 2008. Democratic Party icon Geraldine Ferraro severed ties with Clinton's finance committee after suggesting that Barack Obama's popularity was due to his race.

Southern States

"Record Turnout for Democrats in South Carolina," Agence France-Presse, Jan. 27, 2008. More than 500,000 voters participated in South Carolina's Democratic primary, a record turnout for the party.

Lochhead, Carolyn , "South Is a Key Piece for Obama," The San Francisco Chronicle, June 29, 2008, p. A1. Barack Obama is testing historical voting patterns by attempting to wrest large blocs of the Southern vote away from the Republican Party and John McCain.

Nossiter, Adam , "Democrat Wins House Seat in Mississippi," The New York Times, May 14, 2008, p. A16. Democrat Travis Childers has scored a huge upset by winning a congressional seat in the conservative state of Mississippi.

White Voters

"Clinton Strong With White Women, Older Voters, Exit Poll Shows," The Associated Press, March 5, 2008. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has clinched major victories throughout the primary season thanks largely to white female voters.

"White Men Can Vote," The Economist, July 5, 2008, p. 37. Many white voters will not vote for Barack Obama simply because of the color of his skin.

Harwood, John , "The White Working Class: Forgotten Voters No More," The New York Times, May 26, 2008, p. A12. Votes among white, working-class Americans are proving to be crucial in the fight for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Tackett, Michael , "Myths About the White Male Vote," Chicago Tribune, May 25, 2008, p. A2. Winning the vote among white working-class Americans males has proved to be insignificant in several presidential elections of the recent past.

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Black Agenda Report
A Web magazine and blog heavy on political reporting and commentary, much of it critical of Obama.

(813) 464-7086
The site compiles news, avoiding ideological guidelines, and runs reader comments.

A Web-based organization that organizes campaigns to e-mail lawmakers involved in social-policy and racial-justice issues.

Jack and Jill Politics
A blog publishing commentary on a variety of political issues, from a middle-class, or "black bourgeois," perspective.

Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies
1090 Vermont Ave., N.W., Suite 1100, Washington, DC 20005
(202) 789-3500
A think tank dedicated to issues critical to the African-American community.

Pew Research Center
1615 L St., N.W., Suite 700, Washington, DC 20036
(202) 419-4300
A nonpartisan organization that tracks public opinion on a wide variety of issues, including race and the presidential election.

The Root
Published by Washingtonpost/Newsweek Interactive, a black-oriented Web magazine that presents a variety of political viewpoints.

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[1] For electoral vote estimates, see Greg Giroux, "At the Starting Gate, State by State," CQ Weekly, June 9, 2008, p. 1513. For the Washington Post-ABC News poll, see Dan Balz and Jon Cohen, "Poll Finds Independent Voters Split Between McCain, Obama," The Washington Post, June 17, 2008, p. A1.

[2] Hart quoted in Jackie Calmes, "Obama Leads McCain, But Race Is Looking Tight," The Wall Street Journal, June 12, 2008, p. A8. Gingrich quoted in Jackie Kucinich, "Gingrich warns Republican Party of 'real disaster' this fall," The Hill, May 5, 2008, thehill.com/leading-the-news/gingrich-warns-republican-party-of-real-disaster-this-fall-2008-05-06.html.

[3] Adam Nagourney and Megan Thee, "Poll Finds Obama Candidacy Isn't Closing Divide on Race," The New York Times, July 16, 2008, p. A1. The New York Times/CBS News telephone poll was conducted July 7-14 among 1,796 adults, including 1,338 whites and 297 blacks.

[4] Quoted in Caren Bohan, "Obama says Republicans will use race to stoke fear," Reuters, June 20, 2008, http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20080620/pl_nm/usa_politics_obama_race_dc&printer=1;_ylt=AsqCgl.Al.3gFyN2gkkVh70b.3QA.

[5] Quoted in Charles Babington, "Obama braces for race-based ads," The Associated Press, June 23, 2008, http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080623/ap_on_el_pr/obama_racial_ads.

[6] Quoted in Kevin Merida, "Racist Incidents Give Some Obama Campaigners Pause," The Washington Post, May 13, 2008, p. A1; and Paul Harris, "Democrats in rural strongholds refuse to give backing to Obama," The Observer, June 8, 2008, www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jun/08/barackobama.hillaryclinton.

[7] Quoted in Juan Williams, "Obama's Color Line," The New York Times, Nov. 30, 2007, p. A23.

[8] See Simon Rosenberg, "On Obama, race and the end of the Southern Strategy," Jan. 4, 2008, www.ndn.org/advocacy/immigration/obama-race-and-end-of.html; and Howard Witt, "Latinos still the largest, fastest-growing minority," Los Angeles Times, May 1, 208, p. A18.

[9] For a lengthier excerpt of the sermon than the clips commonly broadcast, and a clip of Wright later explaining his language to Bill Moyers of PBS, see "Long excerpt of Wright's 'God Damn America' speech," YouTube [undated], www.youtube.com/watch?v=bV-oI__bHA4.

[10] See "Remarks of Senator Barack Obama: 'A More Perfect Union,' " March 18, 2008, www.barackobama.com/2008/03/18/remarks_of_senator_barack_obam_53.php.

[11] See "Newsweek Poll, Obama and the Race Factor," Newsweek, May 23, 2008, www.newsweek.com/id/138462.

[12] See "On the Second Amendment, Don't Believe Obama," National Rifle Association — Institute for Legislative Action, June 6, 2008, www.nraila.org/Legislation/Federal/Read.aspx?id=3991.

[13] For full transcript see Mayhill Fowler, "Obama: No Surprise That Hard-Pressed Pennsylvanians Turn Bitter," Huffington Post, April 11, 2008, www.huffingtonpost.com/mayhill-fowler/obama-no-surprise-that-ha_b_96188.html.

[14] Quoted in Alec MacGillis, "Maybe Not 'Bitter,' But Aware of the Loss," The Washington Post, April 19, 2008, p. A6.

[15] See Earl Black and Merle Black, Divided America: The Ferocious Power Struggle in American Politics (2007), pp. 84-85.

[16] Ibid., pp. 83-84.

[17] Quoted in Kathy Kiely and Jill Lawrence, "Clinton makes case for staying in," USA Today, May 8, 2008, p. A1.

[18] See David Paul Kuhn, "Why Clinton won Pennsylvania," Politico, April 23, 2008, www.politico.com/news/stories/0408/9812.html; Katharine Q. Seelye, "The Race Factor in Pa. Primary," The New York Times, The Caucus blog, April 23, 2008, http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/04/23/the-race-factor-in-pa-primary/.

[19] See "Exit Poll: Whites Back Clinton in Kentucky," MSNBC (The Associated Press), May 20, 2008, www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24736399.

[20] See Eric Alterman, "The Hollywood Campaign," The Atlantic, September 2004, www.theatlantic.com/doc/200409/alterman; Landon Thomas Jr., "New Role For Rubin: Policy Guru," The New York Times, Sept. 8, 2006, p. C1; "Quadrangle, Investment Team," undated, www.quadranglegroup.com/rattner.html.

[21] Quoted in Jeff Zeleny, "Obama Says He'd Roll Back Tax Cuts for the Wealthiest," The New York Times, May 14, 2007, www.nytimes.com/2007/05/14/us/politics/14talk.html. See also, Jonathan Kaufman, "Fair Enough?" The Wall Street Journal, June 14, 2008, p. A1.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Quoted in Peter Nicholas, "Obama's ex-pastor strides back on stage," Los Angeles Times, April 29, 2008, p. A1.

[24] See Frank Schaeffer, "If Wright is Anti-American, Why Wasn't My Dad?" beliefnet, March 18, 2008, http://blog.beliefnet.com/castingstones/2008/03/frank-schaffer-if-wright-is-an.html.

[25] See Neela Banerjee and Michael Luo, "McCain Cuts Ties to Pastors Whose Talks Drew Fire," The New York Times, May 23, 2008, www.nytimes.com/2008/05/23/us/politics/23hagee.html.

[26] Quoted in William M. Welch, "Obama's ties to minister may be 'a big problem,' some say," USA Today, March 17, 2008, p. A4.

[27] See Katharine Q. Seelye, "Jackson: Not Upset by Clinton Remarks," The Caucus blog, The New York Times, Jan. 28, 2008, http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/01/28/jackson-not-upset-by-clinton-remarks/?hp.

[28] Except where noted, this subsection is drawn from ibid., and Earl Black and Merle Black, The Vital South: How Presidents Are Elected (1992); and Richard M. Valelly, ed., The Voting Rights Act: Securing the Ballot (2006).

[29] See Black and Black, Divided America, op. cit., p. 74.

[30] See ibid., p. 217.

[31] See "Senate Votes Cloture on Civil Rights Bill, 71-29," CQ Electronic Library, CQ Almanac Online Edition, cqal64-1304621, http://library.cqpress.com/cqalmanac/cqal64-1304621."

[32] Ibid.

[33] Quoted in Black and Black, The Vital South, op. cit., p. 6.

[34] See Congress and the Nation, CQ Press, Vol. 1 (1945-1964), p. 57.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Quoted in Black and Black, The Vital South, op. cit., p. 152.

[37] See Jeffrey Gettleman, "Thurmond Family Struggles With Difficult Truth," The New York Times, Dec. 20, 2003, p. A1.

[38] Quoted in Douglas E. Kneeland, "Reagan Campaigns at Mississippi Fair," The New York Times, Aug. 4, 1980, p. A11.

[39] Quoted in Martin Schram, "Carter Said Reagan Injects Racism," The Washington Post, Sept. 17, 1980, p. A1.

[40] See David A. Bositis, "Black Elected Officials: A Statistical Summary, 1999," Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, 2000, pp. 10, 12, www.jointcenter.org/publications_recent_publications/black_elected_officials/black_elected_officials_a_statistcial_summary_1999.

[41] This subsection draws on extensive coverage of the issue by Sidney Blumenthal, "Willie Horton & the Making of an Election Issue," The Washington Post, Oct. 28, 1988, p. D1; John Buckley, "The Positive Purpose in Negative Campaigns," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 2, 1988, pp. 3, 5; Andrew Rosenthal, "Foes Accuse Bush of Inflaming Racial Tension," The New York Times, Oct. 24, 1988, p. A1; Tali Mendelberg, The Race Card: Campaign Strategy, Implicit Messages, and the Norm of Equality (2001).

[42] Atwater quoted in Blumenthal, ibid. Ailes quoted in Josh Barbanel, "Roger Ailes: Master Maker of Fiery Political Darts," The New York Times, Oct. 17, 1989, p. B1.

[43] Quoted in Jeff Chang, Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation (2007), p. 394.

[44] For background, see Peter Katel, "Debating Hip-Hop," CQ Researcher, June 15, 2007, pp. 529-552.

[45] See Joan Vennochi, "Sister Souljah moments," The Boston Globe, Sept. 16, 2007, www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2007/09/16/sister_souljah_moments/; Mickey Kaus, Kausfiles (blog); Slate, Jan. 22, 2008, www.slate.com/id/2182569/#obamaescape.

[46] Quoted in Steven A. Holmes, "On Civil Rights, Clinton Steers Bumpy Course Between Right and Left," The New York Times, Oct. 20, 1996, p. A16.

[47] Ibid.

[48] See Michael A. Fleter, "Clinton Move to Center, Cabinet Changes Leave Black Supporters Concerned," The Washington Post, Nov. 15, 1996, p. A10.

[49] Quoted in James Gerstenzang and Matea Gold, "Gore Looks South as He Stumps in North," Los Angeles Times, Feb. 20, 2000, p. A39. See also "Confederate-Flag Battle to Continue in S.C.," Los Angeles Times (The Associated Press), June 20, 2000, p. A27.

[50] Quoted in "Excerpts From McCain's Remarks on Confederate Flag," The New York Times, April 20, 2000, p. A22.

[51] Richard H. Davis, "The Anatomy of a Smear," The Boston Globe, March 21, 2004. Davis was campaign manager for John McCain in 2000.

[52] See Lisa Getter, "Florida Net Too Wide in Purge of Voter Rolls," Los Angeles Times, May 21, 2001, p. A1.

[53] Quoted in "Can Bush Mend His Party's Rift With Black America?" The New York Times, Dec. 17, 2000, Sect. 4, p. 17.

[54] See "Transcript: Illinois Senate Candidate Barack Obama," The Washington Post, July 27, 2004, www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A19751-2004Jul27.html.

[55] Quoted in "McCain praises Clinton's campaign," CNN, politicalticker blog, June 2, 2008, http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2008/06/02/mccain-praises-clinton%E2%80%99s-campaign.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Quoted in "Couric Gets Honored in D.C.," June 11, 2008, fishbowlDC, www.mediabistro.com/fishbowlDC/television/couric_gets_honored_in_dc_86823.asp.

[58] See Gloria Steinem, "Women Are Never Front-Runners," The New York Times, Jan. 8, 2008, www.nytimes.com/2008/01/08/opinion/08steinem.html.

[59] Juliet Eilperin, "McCain, Obama Reaching Out to Female Voters," The Washington Post, June 12, 2008, p. A1.

[60] See Arianna Huffington, "Unmasking McCain: His Reactionary Record on Reproductive Rights," Huffington Post, May 26, 2008, www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/unmasking-mccain-his-reac_b_103580.html.

[61] See Tim Wise, "Your Whiteness is Showing," counterpunch, June 7-8, 2008, www.counterpunch.org/wise06072008.html.

[62] See "McCain Cancels Event With Controversial Fundraiser," ABC Political Radar blog, June 13, 2008, http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalradar/2008/06/mccain-cancels.html.

[63] See Ariel Alexovich, "Blogtalk: Michelle Obama Under Fire," The New York Times, The Caucus blog, Feb. 19, 2008, http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/02/19/blogtalk-michelle-obama-under-fire.

[64] See Michael Cooper, "Cindy McCain's Pride," The New York Times, The Caucus blog, Feb. 19, 2008, http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/02/19/cindy-mccains-pride.

[65] See Carrie Budoff Brown, "Michelle Obama becomes GOP target," Politico, June 13, 2008, http://dyn.politico.com/printstory.cfm?uuid=7EC4ACB1-3048-5C12-00B24E3D753ACFCF.

[66] See Evan Thomas, "Alienated in the U.S.A.," Newsweek, May 13, 2008, www.newsweek.com/id/123024.

[67] Ibid.

[68] See Angie Drobnic Holan, "Digging up dirt on Michelle Obama," Politifact, May 30, 2008, www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2008/may/30/digging-dirt-college-years/. Politifact is produced by Congressional Quarterly and The St. Petersburg Times.

[69] See "Fight the Smears," undated, http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/fightthesmearshome/; "CNN Reliable Sources," June 15, 2008, transcript,http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0806/15/rs.01.html.

[70] Ibid., and Larry Johnson, "The Michelle Obama Diversion," No Quarter blog, June 4, 2008, http://noquarterusa.net/blog/2008/06/04/the-michelle-obama-diversion/.

[71] See June Kronholz, "Racial Identity's Gray Area," The Wall Street Journal, June 12, 2008, p. A10.

[72] Quoted in Alan Cowell, "Foreign Reaction to Obama's Claim is Favorable," The New York Times, June 5, 2008, www.nytimes.com/2008/06/05/world/05react.html?_r=1∨efslogin.

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About the Author


Peter Katel is a veteran journalist who previously served as Latin America bureau chief for Time magazine, in Mexico City, and as a Miami-based correspondent for Newsweek and The Miami Herald's El Nuevo Herald. He also worked as a reporter in New Mexico for 11 years and wrote for several non-governmental organizations, including International Social Service and The World Bank. He has won several awards, including the Interamerican Press Association's Bartolome Mitre Award. He is a graduate of the University of New Mexico in University Studies.

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Document APA Citation
Katel, P. (2008, July 18). Race and politics. CQ Researcher, 18, 577-600. Retrieved from http://library.cqpress.com/
Document ID: cqresrre2008071800
Document URL: http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre2008071800
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Jul. 18, 2008  Race and Politics
Apr. 20, 2007  Electing the President
Dec. 30, 1988  Promises vs. Problems
Jul. 10, 1987  Presidential Nomination Process
Feb. 03, 1984  Choosing Presidential Nominees
Jun. 06, 1980  Choosing Presidential Candidates
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Feb. 23, 1972  Political Conventions
May 27, 1964  Foreign Policy Issues in Election Campaigns
Sep. 21, 1960  Voting in 1960
Jan. 06, 1960  Presidential Primaries, 1960
Jan. 04, 1956  Campaign Smearing
Nov. 30, 1955  Presidential Possibilities, 1956
May 09, 1952  Open Conventions
Jan. 16, 1952  Presidential Primaries, 1952
Oct. 12, 1949  Modernization of the Presidential Election
Jan. 14, 1948  Presidential Primaries
May 01, 1944  Foreign Policy in National Elections
Jan. 01, 1944  Choice of Candidates for the Presidency
Apr. 08, 1940  Republican Candidates for the Presidency, 1940
Apr. 01, 1940  Democratic Candidates for the Presidency, 1940
Jun. 19, 1939  Selection of Nominees for the Presidency
Aug. 19, 1938  Nomination by Primary
Mar. 11, 1936  Voting in Presidential Elections
Feb. 18, 1936  Presidential Candidates, 1936
Mar. 03, 1932  Decline of the Presidential Primary
Aug. 25, 1931  Presidential Candidates, 1932
May 05, 1928  National Nominating Conventions
Sep. 03, 1927  Presidential Candidates—1928
Jun. 14, 1927  Patronage Influence in Nominating Conventions
Sep. 11, 1926  The Future of the Direct Primary
Jul. 02, 1924  Proposed Reforms of Presidential Nominating Methods
Jun. 04, 1924  The Machinery of the Political Conventions
Mar. 15, 1924  Presidential Candidates and the Issues
Sep. 05, 1923  The Passing of the Second Term
Campaigns and Elections
Civil Rights Movement

"I think that Obama is the worst president in history. Just saying."
Anonymous, Indiana

"Grover Norquist's position answers the question but spends a ridiculous amount of time on his personal politics. The question was not whether you think Obama would make the kind of President you want. . . ."

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