On Race, Politics & False Assumptions

On Race, Politics & False Assumptions


Michael van der Galien wrote a post yesterday entitled, It’s All About Race. Needless to say it’s about Obama’s overwhelming support among black voters in Tuesday’s contest in Mississippi and why that’s happening.

Let’s take a look at Michael’s argument (note: Mississippi and Louisiana are mixed up here, so read everything in the following as commentary on Mississippi):

So why did Obama [win] so easily in Louisiana? Well, simple: 90% of blacks voted for him, and blacks made up half of the total amount of voters in the Democratic primary. He could not have lost. Because of his plans? Because of his experience? No, because blacks vote for him… because he’s black.

No, that’s not an excuse for Hillary Clinton, but it does give me the impression that African-Americans aren’t voting for people because of her or his politics, but because of his or her… well, in this case, skin color.

So blacks just vote for blacks even if they’re not good candidates? Hmmm. I suppose that’s why Al Sharpton made such an impressive electoral showing in 2004. Or Jesse Jackson in 1984. As is the case with many salvos Michael launches at Obama, the facts simply don’t add up.

But beyond the insensitive and clumsy argument being made here, what bugs me just as much is the technique he’s using to sell it. Here’s how his post starts out at the end of the first paragraph…

I know it’s considered ‘racist’ to point out that 90% is enormous and a nearly idiotic high percentage, but I’m doing so nonetheless.

I’m not sure if this technique has a name, but it should because it’s been around for a LONG time. Basically, the writer prefaces what he is about to say with a promise that somebody will find it offensive enough to call him out on it. And when that actually does happen, like right now, he gains favor from a certain segment of his audience for predicting the inevitable and is therefore seen as being a bold truth-teller who is willing to say what others will not. This is essentially a variation of the same “PC Police” nonsense the right-wing has used for a long, long time to cover their tracks when they say something insensitive and wrong headed.

But just to be clear, I don’t think what Michael said was racist. I know him well enough to discard that outright. And let me point out that I haven’t accused Ferraro of being a racist, nor Bill Clinton, nor anybody else who has made racially insensitive gaffes in this campaign cycle.

I do, however, think what Michael said is incredibly demeaning. People are people are people, and they make up their minds based on many different factors. Yes, blacks are voting for Obama in record numbers. Nobody is denying that. And yes, race is playing a factor in those decisions. But to paint the African-American voting base with such a broad brush, and in such an intellectually dishonest manner, I fear that Michael is indeed beginning to stray into Ferraro territory. And that’s not a good place to be.

This gambit is losing one. Abandon it before it’s too late.

  • http://baldwinparkdemocrat.blogspot.com/ Kevin Callahan

    Good points. Good post. I enjoy stopping by here.

  • Dos

    For the exact same reason, race-based affirmative-action is incredibly demeaning — and its actual institutional and governmental POLICY, not some jack-hole blogger. I haven’t heard you bitching about that demeaning bigotry.

    Will you please have Lessig produce a video on this topic for our (re)education?

  • Doug

    Whenever you are asking if something is racist, it is helpful to turn it around.

    If 90% of whites were voting for a white candidate instead of an equally capable black candidate, would you consider it racist?

    Did Iowa vote for Huckabee because they are all a bunch of Mormon haters or was it because Huckabee comes across as sincere, while Romney comes across as a pandering weanie?

    According to many articles, it was because of the anti-Mormon bias, despite the fact that there is little evidence to support that (and loads of evidence to support the pandering weanie charges)

    The elephant in the room is that a major consideration among black voters is the color of the candidates. So too is the issue of gender, with many feminists choosing Clinton because of her sex.

    I am not claiming that if Dr. Rice ran as a Democrat that she would carry both the black and female vote. But race and gender are absolutely obvious factors affecting votes and pretending they are not does nothing to improve reconciliation in this country.

    Want to really stir the pot? Ask why the nations “Black Leaders” (nearly) all rushed to Clinton. If a black man is elected President, what does that do to the argument about systemic racism?

  • TerenceC


    Please don’t send me to one of his posts again – I thought it would be no big deal but now I just feel like an idiot for even reading it and trying to understand. Michael if your reading: Schrijf enkel uw ” posts” in het Nederlands schijnt u om een probleem het vertalen logica in een andere taal te hebben:)

  • http://www.donklephant.com Justin Gardner

    First off, I don’t think either is bigotry. But if I really deconstruct your point, you’re comparing advantages given to minorities due to widely recoginzed institutional biases and the demeaning of a minority group as thoughtless racial automatons?

    Yeah Dos, those two things aren’t the same. Why don’t you address what I said instead of trying to inject a tangential issue into the conversation?

  • Bill

    the author, van der galien, of the posting you referenced, is merely pointing out the obvious, even though you don’t seem to like it. what’s less obvious is why white voters are voting in such large numbers for obama where in past primaries black candidates garnered few white votes. one probable reason is that obama speaks and acts more like a white person than past black candidates have. in the black parlance of the near past, he would have been referred to as an oreo, black on the outside, white on the inside. Given his bi-racial family history, the resulting combination is not hard to understand. another possible reason for the large number of white voters is there is a lot of white guilt out there about the past treatment of black people in this country, and given the identification with him pointed out above, and the desire to do right by black people and give them a chance, many white voters feel compelled to vote for him, even though they may not realize it.

    gardner, who are you? you’re not too biased are you :)

  • http://www.donklephant.com Justin Gardner

    You call it “the obvious” Bill, I call it demeaning and gross over-generalization. I guess we’ll just have to disagree.

    And the reason PEOPLE are voting for him is he’s got a great message and good plans for the country.

    Bill, I’ve been here since 2005. So who are you?

  • Bill

    “who are you” was a rhetorical question. the message is that you speak like you’re an authority on so many people and topics and yet your bias is so obvious.

    what is also apparent is that you are short on details just as obama is. you are right about one thing, obama seems to have a good message – at first. but it quickly becomes apparent that he does not have any detailed thought out plans for his ideas.

    here is one item for thought. obama has many plans to provide benefits such as high quality health insurance (‘the same insurance as the congress has’) for tens of millions of people who do not now have insurance, and essentially free college education for anyone who is willing to commit to public service for certain periods of time. however, he hasn’t indicated where the money will come from for all of these very high cost endeavors. He mentions some very general ideas about how he will accomplish some of them but nothing very specific. on top of this, he doesn’t address the fact that the next president will inherit close to a trillion dollar deficit when he/she takes office. not to mention a possible recession to deal with. obama supporters like you, don’t seem to see a problem with this. some people would say you’re living in la la land.

  • http://www.donklephant.com Justin Gardner


    My question wasn’t rhetorical. Who are you? Because I’d like to know who I’m talking with, especially when they’re attacking me as living in la la land.

    To the point of being an authority, who exactly is an authority on this campaign? Reporters? Pundits? I’ve been reading probably 20-30 news stories a day for the past 3 years since I started this blog. That may not make me an authority in your eyes, but I think I at least know what’s been going on.

    As far as bias goes, I don’t think it’s any secret I support Obama. But Michael’s assertions were just plain wrong. And history is on my side. You can say it’s a “fact” that blacks only vote for Obama because of his skin color, but you’d be wrong. It is certainly A factor, but it is not THE factor.

    So let’s get on to the issues. You don’t think Obama has enough detail, right Well, go here and get back to me when you’re done reading all of it. If you still don’t think he has enough detail, then go to Hillary and McCain’s sites and see if they have more (hint: they don’t).

    If you’re wondering how he plans to pay for his programs, he has made that very clear. Two big money sucks can be fixed quickly. By ending the war and rolling back the tax cuts on the wealthiest 1%, we’ll have more money to put toward initiatives like the health care and public service/tuition plans. As far as reducing the deficit, a smart, balanced budget and spending cuts can help achieve that goal. Obama has plans for that too.

    Any other questions?