Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Racial Blind

Right now, Barack Obama is leading this election by a statistically significant margin. The causes of this are several, and it is not my goal to analyze all of them. My goal is to raise a question I have not heard anyone else ask: Is race a primary cause of Barack Obama's lead? I believe the answer is yes.

Let me backtrack and briefly note my history with this election. I followed this election intensely throughout the primary season. I have liked John McCain since the 2000 election, and personally favored him to get the nod from the GOP. I did not believe this would happen. With the benefit of hidsight, I see that Republicans had little choice but to select McCain. I believe in any other election cycle, where the incumbent is not such a fantastically unpopular, incompetent Republican, John McCain would have no chance of getting nominated by the GOP as its candidate for President. Ron Paul was also a brief breath of fresh air. I describe him as brief because his good ideas are refreshing, but all of his ideas taken together amount to anarchy. This excited me, but not as much as the primary race happening in the Democratic party. I must admit, I dislike Hillary Clinton. Of the rest of the candidates running for the Democratic nomination, I thought Richardson was the most qualified, and that Barack Obama was intriguing and had the necessary flair for the dramatic (by announcing his candidacy on a cold February morning in the birthplace of Lincoln). I enjoyed the drama of it all, and checked several times each day. I also learned to enjoy the Lehrer News Hour on PBS. If you have never watched this show, do not underestimate how boring a television newscast can be that does not have commercials. Boring though it may be, I now firmly believe that it is the best source of news on television.

I was enamored with Barack Obama. I thought about how great it would be to have a President who united people, and I did not care about his specific policies. Even if I did care about his vision for where America would go if he was elected President, I would not have been able to make sense of anything he described. I noticed that the candidate and his campaign were purposefully vague about many policy issues. It appeared to me that this was a classic political move, highlighting strengths ("I had the judgement to vote against authorizing the Iraq war") and minimizing weaknesses (his lack of initiative in creating policy in the Senate).

I was so enamored with Barack Obama that I thought that all arguments against voting for him were motivated by racism (maybe not overtly, but that all agents of criticism were at least subconsciously motivated by racism). I thought that acceptance of criticism of Obama made me a racist, at least partly. A vote is a judgement, in favor of one and against all others, and the media exposure of Presidential candidates means that most people vote for both the personality as well as the policies the candidate professes. My vote for McCain is a vote against Obama, which I thought could be interpreted as a vote for the white guy and against the black guy. It takes discipline to seperate the individual candidate, and his race, from the individual candidate's policies and philosophies. It took me a long time to reconcile the idea that a vote for McCain was not a vote against the 14th Amendment, Brown v. Board of Education, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and every other advance in civil rights this country has fought so hard for throughout its history. I hope that every other American can look at this election with enough detachment from the personalities of the candidates to decide who to vote for based on the merits of the race.

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