Obama's Gap With Middle AmericaA new poll commissioned by The New York Times confirms the reality that many people are simply uncomfortable discussing in this election-that there is a deep racial divide that isn't going away despite the fanciful dreams of some Barack Obama supporters:
Americans are sharply divided by race heading into the first election in which an African-American will be a major-party presidential nominee, with blacks and whites holding vastly different views of Senator Barack Obama, the state of race relations and how black Americans are treated by society, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.
After years of growing political polarization, much of the divide in American politics is partisan. But Americans’ perceptions of the fall presidential election between Mr. Obama, Democrat of Illinois, and Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, also underlined the racial discord that the poll found. More than 80 percent of black voters said they had a favorable opinion of Mr. Obama; about 30 percent of white voters said they had a favorable opinion of him.
“I don’t like some of his policies, like on energy,” said Bob Beidelman, 69, a white Democrat from York, Pa., about Mr. Obama. “Also I don’t like statements his wife made. She seems like a spoiled brat to me.”
He added: “I’m one of those white people who clings to guns and the Bible, and those things that Barack said kind of turned me off,” he said. “This isn’t a black and white thing. If a conservative African-American like former Congressman J. C. Watts was running, I’d have bumper stickers plastered all over my car supporting him.”
After the 2008 Election is over, scholars years from now will doubtless debate, discuss, define, and redefine the roll that race and the corollary issues related to race played in this election. If Barack Obama is elected at all, it is liable to be with the lowest level of support among white voters ever recorded in an American election.
As folks in these parts are fond to point out to me from time to time, I was born in the North. I am, however, by both familial heritage and personal inclination, a Southerner (a predicament which Harry Truman also dealt with). The problem of race and race relations as it relates to this election is one that I understand in part because of the way I was raised. We cannot deceive ourselves into believing that race is not an issue here-but we can't dismiss the concerns of the white working class as mere racism, either. A lot of us younger people like to believe that our attitudes about race have changed compared to our parents and grandparents. In many ways, this is a correct perception-but we can never understand how blacks or Hispanics view us or view discrimination because we are not one of them.
Barack Obama was essentially handed his political position in Chicago. Unlike most of those who have opposed him politically either now or in former times, he did not start at the political bottom and work his way up. He seems to have come out of nowhere, and to many voters it seems as though we still don't know much about him. He comes across as a dandy, a college professor who knows little of the daily lives of the people in Middle America that he is seeking to represent. That America does not trust Obama, some do not like him, and he seems foreign to them.
If he is to win in November, he must persuade the people that he has so far been unable to win over to support him. It is for this reason that I believe that it could be possible for Senator Obama to win the popular vote, but he could lose handily in the Electoral College. If Barack Obama does manage to pull off a win in November, it will be over a nation so deeply divided that the divisions of 2000 could look like a cakewalk.
As the presidential campaign verges on the historic, Barack Obama risks either losing outright, or governing a nation which neither knows nor trusts him. The "first black president" will live in a hollow vacuum if he fails to connect with the people he so desperately will need in order to maintain political legitimacy.