On Race, Politics & False Assumptions

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Michael van der Galien wrote a post yesterday entitled, It’s All About Race. Needless to say it’s about Obama’s overwhelming support among black voters in Tuesday’s contest in Mississippi and why that’s happening.

Let’s take a look at Michael’s argument (note: Mississippi and Louisiana are mixed up here, so read everything in the following as commentary on Mississippi):

So why did Obama [win] so easily in Louisiana? Well, simple: 90% of blacks voted for him, and blacks made up half of the total amount of voters in the Democratic primary. He could not have lost. Because of his plans? Because of his experience? No, because blacks vote for him… because he’s black.

No, that’s not an excuse for Hillary Clinton, but it does give me the impression that African-Americans aren’t voting for people because of her or his politics, but because of his or her… well, in this case, skin color.

So blacks just vote for blacks even if they’re not good candidates? Hmmm. I suppose that’s why Al Sharpton made such an impressive electoral showing in 2004. Or Jesse Jackson in 1984. As is the case with many salvos Michael launches at Obama, the facts simply don’t add up.

But beyond the insensitive and clumsy argument being made here, what bugs me just as much is the technique he’s using to sell it. Here’s how his post starts out at the end of the first paragraph…

I know it’s considered ‘racist’ to point out that 90% is enormous and a nearly idiotic high percentage, but I’m doing so nonetheless.

I’m not sure if this technique has a name, but it should because it’s been around for a LONG time. Basically, the writer prefaces what he is about to say with a promise that somebody will find it offensive enough to call him out on it. And when that actually does happen, like right now, he gains favor from a certain segment of his audience for predicting the inevitable and is therefore seen as being a bold truth-teller who is willing to say what others will not. This is essentially a variation of the same “PC Police” nonsense the right-wing has used for a long, long time to cover their tracks when they say something insensitive and wrong headed.

But just to be clear, I don’t think what Michael said was racist. I know him well enough to discard that outright. And let me point out that I haven’t accused Ferraro of being a racist, nor Bill Clinton, nor anybody else who has made racially insensitive gaffes in this campaign cycle.

I do, however, think what Michael said is incredibly demeaning. People are people are people, and they make up their minds based on many different factors. Yes, blacks are voting for Obama in record numbers. Nobody is denying that. And yes, race is playing a factor in those decisions. But to paint the African-American voting base with such a broad brush, and in such an intellectually dishonest manner, I fear that Michael is indeed beginning to stray into Ferraro territory. And that’s not a good place to be.

This gambit is losing one. Abandon it before it’s too late.