nimh, that last post of yours is a sheer joy.
I have probably read it fifteen times, and I get just as much pleasure out of doing so the fifteenth time as I did the first.
Really? When I reread it, it sounds kinda disjointed and unfocused ... so its good to hear that thats not how it comes across. ;-)
In any case, I just came across a fascinating article that I would now be able to use in reply to Scrat's question - is Scrat around, still?
We've had black candidates run from both major parties. Please show me where these were treated with hostility or marginalized by any sizable group because of their skin color.
On TNR now, there's a special, long, really interesting article on Barack Obama, the black Democratic candidate in this year's Senate race. Just to set down the bottom line here I can refer to how the writer is especially impressed by Obama's inroads in the primaries considering ...
... that white, blue-collar voters have never been particularly hospitable to African American candidates. Indeed, over the last 40 years, despite the advances of the civil rights movement, black politicians have made almost no progress representing anything but predominantly black areas. Since the 1960s, there have been only two African American senators and a single African American governor--none of whom are currently in office.
For sure, the article specifies that this is also because African-American candidates were victimized by their own
base, ready to blame candidates for not being "black enough" when they try to tailor their message to white moderates. But that's just one half of the story. Even candidates who consistently chose to do so, anyway - Douglas Wilder for example, who didnt have to prove he was "black enough" thanks to his civil rights record - came upon the racial barrier. Wilder ended up practically hiding the fact he was black - yet still failed tro convince whites that, just cause he was black, that didn't mean he was a hopeless liberal:
[Some] African American candidates have attempted a second approach: de-emphasizing race and running to the political center. Perhaps the most successful of these candidates was former Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder [..]. Paul Goldman, a top Wilder adviser who managed the campaign, recalls that he avoided drawing excessive attention to Wilder's race whenever possible--for example, by declining to cast Wilder in some of his own commercials. Meanwhile, Wilder positioned himself as a moderate on taxes and crime. (One of Wilder's most famous ads featured a local white cop testifying to his fitness for office.) Goldman also relied heavily on Wilder's heroism during the Korean War. The campaign ran on the slogan "FROM KOREA TO RICHMOND, HE'S STILL FIGHTING FOR VIRGINIA" in hopes of capitalizing on the state's rich military tradition.
But, though Wilder won both the 1985 race and his 1989 campaign for governor, these episodes testify as much to the limits of his election strategy as to its effectiveness. Wilder won the governorship by less than 1 percent--and even that was thanks to the unusual resonance of his pro-choice views on abortion at a time when the issue was all over the news. "Every time we took the abortion position [off the agenda] and we'd spend the week talking about something else, we'd lose pro-choice Republican women," laments Goldman.
Wilder also fell victim to stereotypes about black candidates, whom whites tend to see as overly tolerant of crime and devoted to government programs that primarily benefit African Americans. [..] Jesse Helms twice defeated Harvey Gantt, a charismatic black architect and business-friendly former mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, by playing on white resentment of affirmative action. New York state Comptroller Carl McCall lost by 16 points to Republican George Pataki in the 2002 gubernatorial race, even though the state is home to some two million more Democrats than Republicans. And the same stereotypes nearly doomed Wilder as well. Despite his outspoken positions on taxes (he had pledged not to raise them) and social issues like the death penalty (which he supported), campaign polling showed that few white voters actually believed him.
Obama, hopefully, will be the big exception that will seem to turn the pattern around. When Bush grumbled to Representative Schakowsky that he didn't know the guy, she confidenly replied "But you will, Mister President".
But he is an exception in many ways. He is biracial, and the half that's not white is Kenyan, rather than African-American. The article makes a convincing case that Africans, like West-Indians, enjoy a specific advantage on African-Americans when it comes to whites' image of them - "the distinction between "good" blacks and "bad" blacks [that] has a rich pedigree in the United States".
Obama performed so well among all demographics that one is tempted to conclude that working-class whites are simply more open to voting for black politicians than they were even five or ten years ago. But that would be a mistake. Anita Dunn, who worked for [Obama's competitor] Hull and sat in on that campaign's focus groups, notes that the only time suburban and exurban white voters ever responded negatively to Obama was when he was associated with more conventional black politicians. [..]
The power of Obama's exotic background to neutralize race as an issue, combined with his elite education and his credential as the first African American Harvard Law Review president, made him an African American candidate who was not stereotypically African American. "[Obama] is not stereotypically anything," says Mark Blumenthal, the pollster who ran Hull's focus groups. "He's different. He's different because he's biracial. He's a different generation. He's different in terms of qualifications than nine out of ten people who run for office." Free of the burden of reassuring culturally moderate whites that he wasn't threatening, Obama could appeal to their economic self-interest while also exciting his African American and progressive white base.
Plus, as you'll have gathered from the above, there's the traditional "you have to be twice as good to make it as a black person" thing of course, that seems to apply here as well:
It's not clear how relevant Obama's example is for other African American candidates. There are, after all, only so many former Harvard Law Review editors with African names. Moreover, Obama's ability to be African American in a way that doesn't threaten whites is not the only, or even the primary, source of his appeal. His political talent is largely a function of his charisma, and such talent is, by its nature, not reproducible.
Still, let's hope that Obama will be the third popularly elected black Senator in the nation's history, if only to prove that at least a former Harvard Law Review editor with an African name isn't "marginalized because of his skin color".
Here's the full 8-page article ...