The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

The Race Chasm and the campaign

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For a further observance of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., take a look a David Sirota’s analysis of the impact of race on the current election. Ponder this graph for a minute (it took me at least a minute!), then I’ll give you a few excerpts from his thought-provoking post from In These Times.

The Race Chasm may sound like a conventional discussion of the black-white divide, but it is one of the least-discussed geographic, demographic and political dynamics driving the contest between Clinton and Obama. I call it the Race Chasm because of what it looks like on a graph. … As the Race Chasm graph shows, when you chart Obama’s margin of victory or defeat against the percentage of African-Americans living in that state, a striking U trend emerges. …

On the left of the graph, among the states with the smallest black population, Obama has destroyed Clinton. With the candidates differing little on issues, this trend is likely due, in part, to the fact that
black-white racial politics are all but non-existent in nearly totally white states. …

On the right of the graph among the states with the largest black populations, Obama has also crushed Clinton. … “in the Democratic primary the black vote is so huge [in these states], it can overwhelm the white vote,” says Thomas Schaller, a political science professor at the University of Maryland—Baltimore. …

It is in the chasm where Clinton has consistently defeated Obama. These are geographically diverse states … where racial politics is very much a part of the political culture, but where the black vote is too small to offset a white vote racially motivated by the Clinton campaign’s coded messages and tactics. The chasm exists in the cluster of states whose population is above 6 percent and below 17 percent black, and Clinton has won most of them by beating Obama handily among white working-class voters. …

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D), a Clinton supporter, publicly acknowledged this dynamic in February. He suggested … that Obama’s ethnicity could prevent him from winning the state …

That was echoed by Obama supporter David K. Levdansky, a state representative from western Pennsylvania. ‘For all our wanting to believe that race is less of an issue than ever before, the reality of
racism still exists,’ he told the New York Times. “It’s not that [Pennsylvanians] don’t think he’s qualified, but some people fear that it might be empowering the black community by electing Obama.” … [It is my observation in church and community life that white people want to mix with people of color – as long as whites still control the agenda. – M.]

“Schaller, who recently authored the book Whistling Past Dixie analyzing demographic voting trends [writes] “in the middle range, polarization is sizeable enough that black voters cannot overcome it, and these are the states where she wins.”

Now, consider what’s been in the news. Geraldine Ferraro suggesting Obama is an Affirmative Action case. Bill Clinton likening Obama’s campaign to that of Jesse Jackson. And lately, the Clinton campaign devoting considerable effort to distorting and publicizing a handful of charged words of Dr. Jeremiah Wright. What do these events have in common? They are all flash-points among working class whites. Read comments on this blog’s related posts if you doubt it.

This is “The Clinton Firewall”: oh-so-subtly stirring the fires of racial anger in states “where the black vote is too small to offset a white vote racially motivated by the Clinton campaign’s coded messages and tactics.” Why do you think we ever heard of Jeremiah Wright?

Sirota concludes: “If that machine’s firewall strategy continues to exploit the Race Chasm … Clinton will be asking the Democratic Party, one that has come to champion racial tolerance and democracy, to truly become the Democrat Party—one that ignores those ideals in favor of a single Democrat.”

There’s much more to his analysis, including how this relates to the strategy for superdelegates; I hope you’ll read it.

Meanwhile, on this 40th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., I hope you’ll see how close to the surface – and how easily manipulated – racial tensions remain.


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Written by Monte

April 4, 2008 at 6:53 pm

Posted in Politics

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