Monday, January 20, 2014


A Bloomberg story by Brian Wingfield has the following headline:
Obama Says Racial Animus Blunts Approval, New Yorker Reports
Did Obama really say that? Did he say his poll numbers are going down because white people don't like the black guy in the White House? No:
President Barack Obama said that racial tensions may have softened his popularity among white voters within the last two years, according to a story posted on the New Yorker magazine's website today.

"There's no doubt that there's some folks who just really dislike me because they don't like the idea of a black president," Obama said in the article by David Remnick, appearing in the magazine's Jan. 27 edition.

"Now, the flip side of it is there are some black folks and maybe some white folks who really like me and give me the benefit of the doubt precisely because I'm a black president," Obama said in his most direct comments on how race has affected his political standing since he's been in office.
Is Obama saying that his numbers are don because of race? No, not in this quote. He's engaging in a classically Obamaesque bit of on-the-other-hand-ism: race hurts him with some people, he says, and helps him with others. The net result being? He takes great pains not say.

Go to the published interview and you see that yes, racism is blamed for the poll drop -- but by Remnick, the interviewer, not by Obama:
Obama's election was one of the great markers in the black freedom struggle. In the electoral realm, ironically, the country may be more racially divided than it has been in a generation. Obama lost among white voters in 2012 by a margin greater than any victor in American history. The popular opposition to the Administration comes largely from older whites who feel threatened, underemployed, overlooked, and disdained in a globalized economy and in an increasingly diverse country. Obama's drop in the polls in 2013 was especially grave among white voters. "There's no doubt that there’s some folks who just really dislike me because they don’t like the idea of a black President," Obama said. "Now, the flip side of it is there are some black folks and maybe some white folks who really like me and give me the benefit of the doubt precisely because I'm a black President." The latter group has been less in evidence of late.
And while the quote in this paragraph has gone viral, I don't see anyone quoting what Obama says next:
"There is a historic connection between some of the arguments that we have politically and the history of race in our country, and sometimes it’s hard to disentangle those issues," [Obama] went on. "You can be somebody who, for very legitimate reasons, worries about the power of the federal government -- that it's distant, that it's bureaucratic, that it's not accountable -- and as a consequence you think that more power should reside in the hands of state governments. But what's also true, obviously, is that philosophy is wrapped up in the history of states' rights in the context of the civil-rights movement and the Civil War and Calhoun. There's a pretty long history there. And so I think it's important for progressives not to dismiss out of hand arguments against my Presidency or the Democratic Party or Bill Clinton or anybody just because there's some overlap between those criticisms and the criticisms that traditionally were directed against those who were trying to bring about greater equality for African-Americans. The flip side is I think it's important for conservatives to recognize and answer some of the problems that are posed by that history, so that they understand if I am concerned about leaving it up to states to expand Medicaid that it may not simply be because I am this power-hungry guy in Washington who wants to crush states’ rights but, rather, because we are one country and I think it is going to be important for the entire country to make sure that poor folks in Mississippi and not just Massachusetts are healthy."
It doesn't get much more Obamaesque than that. Short summary: It's obvious that arguments against programs like my health care law have a historic connection to racist states' rights arguments. But progressives shouldn't assume there's no validity to the arguments simply because of that -- even as conservatives should understand that the history makes liberals wary of the arguments. (How many "on the other hand"s is that?)

Obama wants a national solution to the problem of access to health care. He's mindful of the fact that racism has often motivated those who oppose expansion of federal government power. But he's taking great pains to give similar present-day opposition a far hearing, even if he does come down on the other side.

Pure Obama.


Never Ben Better said...

Yet another example of why he's so ideal for the Presidency in terms of understanding this country -- and why it's so easy for his enemies to attack him in this soundbite culture.

Victor said...

Attributing things to President Obama that someone else said, has been going on since he first burst on the national scene.

It's kind of like FOX "News" continually putting a "D" in the chyron next to the name of some Republican or other, accused of something or other.