Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Peter Beinart in today's Washington Post:

...Many of the voters who right now won't vote for Obama because he's black would probably vote for Colin Powell even though he's black. That's because they don't see Powell as a racial redistributionist, a guy who would favor his community at their expense. There's no rational reason to believe Obama would, either. But because, unlike Powell, Obama is a liberal Democrat who enjoys overwhelming black support, that's what many racially hostile white voters assume.

... Obama ... needs to acknowledge their fears and do something dramatic to assuage them....

He can do that with a high-profile speech -- and maybe a TV ad -- calling for the replacement of race-based preferences with class-based ones. That would confront head-on white fears that an Obama administration would favor minorities at whites' expense....

Ta-Nehisi Coates points out what appears to be a rather large flaw in this argument:

Beinart's test-case, Colin Powell, is pro-Affirmative Action.

Yup -- a "strong proponent" of affirmative action.

But Coates doesn't seem to understand how these things work. Obama is a Democrat, so even if he doesn't believe what people assume all Democrats (and blacks) believe, he does. And Powell is a Republican, so even if he deviates from GOP orthodoxy, on race or any other issue, he doesn't.

OK, that's not completely true. If Powell were running for president, he'd be mercilessly attacked by members of his own party. Coates is right about this:

...there's are some very good reasons why Powell never ran for president. Personal ones aside, I suspect some of them have to do with the fact that Powell isn't just for Affirmative Action, he's for some level of gun control, and he's pro-choice.

True -- as Bob Woodward reported in 1996, right-wingers planned to out a relative of Powell's if he ran, presumably out of fear that he could win the nomination, if not the election, and move the party leftward on social issues.

But if he managed to leap that hurdle and unite the party, his status as a "post-racial" candidate would be unchallenged, because he's a Republican.

But what about plain old racism? Yes, there are still a fair number of unreconstructed old-school bigots, but right-wing propagandists have channeled much of what used to be pure racism into hatred for certain non-whites -- i.e., non-whites who can be described as conforming to "rabble-rouser" and "troublemaker" stereotypes (which are translated into "liberal" and "Democratic"). The describers, naturally, are the same right-wing and Republican propagandists.

So no matter what Barack Obama says about any racial issue, no matter how he conducts his campaign, he is -- wouldn't you know it -- at the very least suspected of being one of those "troublemakers," with a presumption of guilt. And somehow -- as long as he doesn't try to be a pro-choice GOP president -- Colin Powell isn't, no matter what he believes.

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