Justus For All

None Sine Causa

Obama and Race

8:54 am on Friday, March 21, 2008

This post by The Anchoress is a must read. Both profound, deeply moving and exceedingly well written.

I don’t know that I can offer up anything as good, but like a lot of the country I have been thinking a lot about the Obama campaign and the recent developments and what they mean to racial relations in America.

I of course have not been an Obama supporter.  That doesn’t, at least I believe it doesn’t, have anything to do with his race, but rather other political reasons, in particular my views on foreign policy and who would best be able to chart a course that I think would be best.  For a variety of reasons that I won’t get into here, I have chosen Hillary Clinton as the candidate I like best.

I have though expressed admiration for Obama, and welcomed his candidacy.  Indeed if I hadn’t felt so strongly about the importance of our foreign policy in today’s environment I could have seen myself supporting him, even though his political positions are clearly a lot further left then my own.  What attracted me to Obama was his potential to be a post-racial candidate, someone who was a strong contender for the Presidency regardless of whether he was black or not.

I think quite a few middle class white people shared this view, and this hope, for Obama.  We long for a post-racial America, where everything isn’t parsed by race and we can just get on with being Americans.  This doesn’t mean that we are not conscious that racial divides still occur, and we certainly acknowledge that racism still exists and also clearly their are racially linked economic disparities that need to be addressed, but speaking for myself at least (although I suspect many share my view) it seems that the hyper-focus we as a nation have on racism is not helpful.  It increases racial prejudice and distrust rather then combating it.  Obama as a post-racial candidate had the potential to help us move beyond that.

It is of course ironic that only a black person can be a post-racial candidate.  There is a racial qualification for that position, and though it depends greatly on the content of the candidates character, even more it is based upon the color of his skin.  This though seemed (seems still in fact) necessary and was an irony those who wanted past this mess were willing to overlook.

The Jeremiah Wright mess seems to have ruined Obama’s standing as the post-racial candidate.  Perhaps it was inevitable, and we are not yet ready for that candidate.  Perhaps it was simply that Obama wasn’t the man, or perhaps it was that the hopes and dreams bound up with his candidacy bouyed him so high, giving his campaign an almost messianic feeling, that a collapse was inevitable.  And I think it fairly obvious that ending Obama’s post-racial appeal was and explicit goal of the Clinton campaign, starting with Bill’s comments in South Carolina a couple of months ago.

In any event, I think that it is safe to say that Obama the post-racial candidate is gone.  He may still win the nomination, he may even win the Presidency, but I don’t think it will have the same effect that it could have.  This is not to say at all that I think Obama is a racist person, but simply that the symbolism around his campaign has been forever changed.  It is the symbolism that matters here, not any program or policy.
I suspect that the loss of this symbolism will doom his campaign as well.  I think that there are a lot of people who supported Obama because of these hopes to move into this post racial environment, and the loss of that potential removes a strong motivation to support him.  He is now at best just another politician who has to be judged by his policies and positions.  There are of course a lot of people who really like those policies, and they will continue to support him, and their are other people who want Obama as a racial symbol, not a post-racial symbol, and they will support him, but I think there is a group, and that group is large enough in this tightly contested election, to make the difference.

While their is no chance left that Hillary can defeat Obama outright in the primaries (the same is true in reverse as well) it seems to me that the super-delegates will be looking at the same factors that I see, and they will conclude that Obama’s strength among independants has weakened enough that he isn’t likely to win the general election.  That being the case, they will support Hillary as a stronger candidate.

Perhaps we a nation really are not ready to move into the post-racial environment many of us desire.  Perhaps we have to settle some hard things first.  I can’t help feel sadness though for what might have been.

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