Bearing in mind that four presidential elections is not a very large data set, the fact is that voting is racially polarized across the country, not just in the South. In 2012, Barack Obama won 332 electoral votes to Mitt Romney’s 206; if only whites’ votes had been counted — if Mitt Romney had been running for the office of President of White Folks — then Romney would have handed Obama a crushing loss, roughly 438 to 100 in the Electoral College. Romney would have won such Democratic strongholds as California, Illinois, and New Jersey; in fact, he would have won every state except for Iowa, Washington, Oregon, New York, and a few small states. Race is not the only cleavage, of course: If the vote had been white men only, chunks of New England would have slipped away, leaving Barack Obama with something like half a dozen states and 40 electoral votes.
On the other hand, have a gander at the 2014 midterm-election map: Does this look like the showing of a rump Southern white people’s party to you? It may be that presidential elections, unlike congressional and gubernatorial elections, really are mainly about culture, about signaling identity and values, about how we see ourselves and our country. If that is the case, it should not surprise us all that much that blacks and whites vote differently. Not only do policy preferences reflect racial divisions, but there are racial differences in all manner of beliefs, tastes, and opinions. We can all laugh at jokes about the O. J. Simpson verdict’s role as a black-authenticity heuristic today, but roughly contemporaneous racial disagreements are not amusing even in retrospect.
That the Democratic party has attempted to hijack for itself credit for the hard and often bloody work performed for a century almost exclusively by Republicans, from Lincoln to Eisenhower, is a reminder that the party of Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton is not a place for men with a very developed sense of decency.
That being the case, Democrats should spare us their batty tales about Louisiana sending off the South’s last Democratic senator — a sanctimonious white lady if ever there was one — because white bigots are being inspired by a governor one generation away from Punjab, Haitian refugees representing Utah in the House, and this National Review cruise aficionado. From George Wallace’s infamous stand in the schoolhouse door to Barack Obama’s, embarrassing racial politics are the Democrats’ bread and butter. And what happened in the 1960s wasn’t the parties’ “changing places” on racism and civil rights; it was the Democrats’ — some of them, at least — joining the ranks of civilized human beings for the first time.
It only took them a century.
But I’m not holding my breath waiting for the cohorts of Al Sharpton, not to mention the man himself, dubbed “smart… entertaining… experienced… thoughtful… provocative, all the things I think that MSNBC is” by that channel’s president to enter the 21st century anytime soon.