January 22, 2008


Barack Obama: white America’s candidate: Desperately hoping that he will change the ‘image of the USA’, white liberals have invested more hope and energy in Obama's campaign than have black Americans. (John Browne, 1/22/08, Spiked)

Today, blacks tend to agree more with the Republicans than the Democrats over abortion, gay marriage and the death penalty, but are unlikely to vote Republican. [...]

Until the mid-1920s, blacks largely voted Republican due to the legacy of Lincoln, ‘the great emancipator’. The Depression and the subsequent New Deal of the 1930s - sponsored by the Democrat president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt - helped to reverse this trend, with huge benefits given to many poor blacks. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 accelerated this shift, especially when the Act inspired many conservative, southern Democrats (Dixiecrats) to defect to the Republicans and Barry Goldwater, one of the few Republicans who opposed the Act, won his party nomination to run for president. The effect of these events was to hand the black vote to the Democrats.

If that wasn’t enough, the Republicans’ ‘Southern Strategy’ that began in the late 1960s, created a fissure that has never been healed. As Richard Nixon explained it at the time: ‘From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 per cent of the Negro vote and they don’t need any more than that… but Republicans would be short-sighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.’

The black vote is only really influential in the South, but this is also where the Republicans have the most influence; as a result, the black vote has been largely irrelevant, or at least has been until now. Southern Democrats Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter both won southern states when they ran for president, but Clinton didn’t need to win them for his victories, and Carter was a one-term anomaly from Georgia who knew his Bible. In fact, Bill Clinton largely won so much support among blacks because of his conservatism and Christian leanings. Today, black voters are closer to the Republicans than the Democrats on many social issues; Hillary knows this only too well, and hopes that Bill’s legacy will bring many of them out to support her.

Whether the Southern states come into play in November is yet to be seen, and will depend more on who the Republican candidate is than who the Democrat one is.

It’s only in the South that blacks constitute a block large enough to sway a result. And even then, they can’t do it without substantial white support. In Mississippi, 37 per cent of the population is black, the highest percentage of any state. Louisiana (33 per cent), South Carolina (30 per cent), Georgia and Maryland (29 per cent), and Alabama (27 per cent) follow. In the District of Columbia, which has no state rights, the population is 61 per cent black.

Southern black Democrats, especially women, are now torn, faced with supporting ‘one of their own’, or a candidate whose husband laid claim to the title as the ‘first black president’. Some black leaders, especially in the South, simply do not believe that white people would vote for a black man. But there is no doubt that Obama’s candidacy is generating huge interest. DeKalb county in central Atlanta, where the population is 55 per cent black, saw a 12-fold increase in voter registrations in the two days after Iowa, compared to a similar period four years ago.

It’s very often difficult to know how much political thought goes into what candidates accuse each other of. For instance, was Hillary Clinton deliberately trying to force Obama to run as a ‘black candidate’ when she inserted race into the campaign in early January? Speaking at one of the debates, she appeared to denigrate the importance of the civil rights movement when she noted that Martin Luther King’s ‘dream began to be realised when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It took a president to get it done.’ Obama didn’t completely rise to the bait, aware that by siding with the black rhetoric that Sharpton and his cronies are famous for would be more likely to alienate white voters than appeal to black voters. And it’s whites and Hispanics he needs to win if he does become the Democrat nominee. Despite what some say about not relying on the black vote, it’s safe to say he can. In fact, the main concern many blacks have is that if he were to be the nominee, or even win the presidency, his biggest problem would likely be the number of people wanting to assassinate him.

In a perceptive opinion piece in the Washington Post, William Jelani Cobb said that the old civil rights leaders can see their influence, such as it is, being destroyed by Obama’s candidacy: ‘Obama is indebted, but not beholden, to the civil rights gerontocracy. A successful Obama candidacy would simultaneously represent a huge leap forward for black America and the death knell for the reign of the civil rights-era leadership - or at least the illusion of their influence.’

If Democrats are perceived to reject the Obama candidacy for racial reasons, or even just race tinged reasons, might it put more black votes in play? John McCain certainly isn't the sort of Republican who has racialist baggage.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 22, 2008 2:27 PM

Conversley, what if Democrats are perceived as accepting the Obama candidacy strictly for racial reasons?
The only actual reason this lightweight could ever gain the nomination.

Posted by: Mike at January 22, 2008 8:42 PM