[E]ven if black turnout rises by 25 percent from 2004 … if Hispanic turnout holds steady … and the under-50 vote rises by 5 percent … the Democrat would still need to win 40 percent of the overall paleface vote to prevail in November …
— John Heilemann
The “paleface vote,” Mr. Heilemann? Very sophisticated. That’ll do wonders for race relations.
In his color-coded article, “The Color-Coded Campaign,” John Heilemann doesn’t just hint that racial prejudice will prevent Barack Obama from winning the White House. He states it directly and without equivocation. The reason America’s first black major party presumptive presidential nominee hasn’t blown out the intractably boring and uninspiring John McCain in the polls, given “surging” Democratic voter registration and voters’ disenchantment with Republicans, is his skin color.
It wouldn’t have anything to do with Obama’s liberal beliefs, inexperience, gaffes, and inconsistencies, would it? No, it’s because he’s black, says Heilemann and other liberals. Lurking just below the surface of any white person’s criticism of Barack Obama is racial bias. Heilemann’s article leaves the impression that Obama longs to take the high road and rise above such distractions; Republicans and other white people just won’t let him.
Obama may want to ignore “the elephant in the room,” says Heilemann, but since his racist detractors are “intent on blackening him,” he can’t avoid it. Instead of ignoring race, which is impossible, Obama needs to “talk about race … without talking about race.” What kind of double talk is that? Can the other side talk about Obama’s race without talking about Obama’s race? This is what we’ve come to in America. Race isn’t an elephant in the room. We see it and we’re talking about it. We can’t stop talking about it, including the man himself.
At a fundraiser in June, Obama said this about Republicans:
“We know what kind of campaign they’re going to run. They’re going to try to make you afraid. They’re going to try to make you afraid of me. They’re going to say, ‘You know what? He’s young, inexperienced, and he’s got a funny name. Did I mention he’s black?'”
Last month, Obama said this about Republicans:
“So nobody really thinks that Bush or McCain have [sic] a real answer for the challenges we face, so what they’re going to try to do is make you scared of me … ‘You know, he doesn’t look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills, you know. He’s risky.'”
In both cases, Obama implied that his white opponents would inject race into the campaign. After a backlash, he tried to backtrack, accusing the McCain camp of cynicism instead of racism. But the intended damage was done.
People of any color have a natural tendency to use whatever advantages they’ve got. There’s nothing special about Obama. He understands very well that his ethnicity distinguishes him in this election, and he’s counting on that distinction to help inspire voters. It’s why he’s injected race into the race. Yes, Obama is more than the color of his skin, but even he knows it’s an integral part of why some people support him.
Heilemann is right about one thing. It’s impossible to ignore race, especially in this election. This moment is a big one for the history books. Obama is America’s first black major party presumptive presidential nominee. If he loses, his skin color won’t be the major reason. A commenter on Heilemann’s article made a keen observation. Former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele ran for the U.S. Senate in 2006. Was racial prejudice the reason he lost? Were white Democrats in Maryland racist for not voting for Steele? I don’t think so. Steele was a conservative running in a liberal state. People are supposed to examine a candidate’s platform, voting record, value system, etc., while deciding whether to vote for him.
And that’s what voters are doing in this presidential election. If Barack Obama is defeated in November, it means “paleface” voters would rather take a chance on a lukewarm Republican than a cool, race card-playing Democrat.