Posted on June 24, 2011

Obama’s America in Black and White

Seth A. Forman, National Review, June 23, 2011

Platitudes about the civic utopia that would spring forth from the election of Barack Obama have vanished. Thomas Friedman’s claim that “the American Civil War ended, as a black man . . . became president of the United States,” has now been replaced by PBS host Tavis Smiley’s prediction that the 2012 presidential election is “going to be the ugliest, the nastiest, the most divisive, and the most racist in the history of this Republic.” E. J. Dionne’s trope that “it is time to hope again. Time to hope that the era of racial backlash and wedge politics is over,” has given way to the statement by CBS’s Bob Schieffer that recent criticism of Obama represents “an ugly strain of racism that’s running through this whole thing.” Paul Krugman, who wrote in 2008 that “Racial polarization used to be a dominating force in our politics, but we’re now a different, and better, country,” has taken to equating the anti-Obama Tea Party with the Ku Klux Klan.

It’s not just the punditry that overpredicted the soothing qualities of Obama’s presidential salve. Average citizens have also been chastened. A Rasmussen poll in October of 2010 found that just 36 percent of voters said relations between blacks and whites were getting better, down from 62 percent in July of 2009.


A recent study by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that non-college-educated whites are the most alienated of racial groups. Only 44 percent of this demographic said they expected their economic situation to be better ten years from now, compared to two-thirds of minorities (and 55 percent of college-educated whites).

The familiar clichés with their subtle innuendos featuring “angry white males” who suffer from economic “anxiety” have been trotted out to explain white disillusionment. “The sense of being eclipsed demographically is almost certainly compounding the white working class’s fear of losing ground economically,” is how Ronald Brownstein of National Journal adroitly phrased it.


The extent to which blacks remain alienated from this historical social compact is America’s best-kept political secret. In the simplest terms, blacks tend to be more ambivalent toward the nation’s founding documents, institutions, and values than whites, are more likely to prefer an activist government, and are more likely to look skeptically upon free-market competition, entrepreneurship, and individualism. Polls cited by Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom in their seminal work America in Black and White show a marked racial divide on such questions as the proper level of governmental assistance, whether the federal government should provide more services even if it means new taxes, and whether or not it is the responsibility of government to reduce income differences among people.

In other words, even though the 2010 census reveals that residential segregation for blacks is at its lowest level ever (the average black lives in a community that is 54 percent nonblack), blacks remain the most politically segregated group. There is indeed no greater predictor of voting patterns than being black–not income, not education level, not marriage status, not age, not religious affiliation, not party affiliation, not profession. Once the voter is known to be black, it can be estimated with roughly 90 percent confidence that he will pull the lever for a Democrat.


A greater violation of the principles of free will and individual conscience could hardly be imagined. What other group of people is officially assumed by government to have had identical experiences or suffered the same debilitating social rejection? What other group must suffer leaders like Jesse Jackson, who told a Congressional Black Caucus reception in 2009, “You can’t vote against health care and call yourself a black man”?

Two related results of this special dispensation for blacks have been that they continue to trail whites, Hispanics, and Asians in the rate at which they create new businesses, and that they are overrepresented in government employment.


Pundits who spoke of a post-racial America if Obama became president were ignoring the fact, laid out in his two autobiographies and evident throughout his career, that Obama himself embodies the ambivalence that many blacks feel toward the “American creed,” a set of beliefs and attitudes born from a revolution against state authority and centered on the ability of individuals to determine their own destiny.

The result is that the country now seems to be teetering on the edge of race-based political partisanship. {snip}

The Democratic Party could become even more dependent on racial minorities, as blacks continue to interpret the white turn against Obama as cruel racial rejection. Arrayed against the party of minorities will be the predominantly white Republican Party, completely bereft of blacks and increasingly heedless of their concerns. Rather than eliminating race as a significant issue in American politics, the Obama presidency appears to have rendered it the central cleavage in American life for years to come.