The Liability within a Strength

28 Aug

John B. Judis offers a striking hypothesis, that highlights the debilitating flip-side of African-Americans’ loyalty to the Democratic party: black equals left-wing.

Obama’s race reinforces whatever doubts voters might have about his ability to govern. As several psychological experiments have shown, white voters asked to compare white and black candidates of equal accomplishment will tend to view the black candidate as being less competent.

Stanley Greenberg and Democracy Corps make a similar mistake in what is otherwise a brilliant study of how voters in Macomb County, a white working class area north of Detroit, plan to vote this fall. Greenberg found Obama trailing McCain by 46 to 39 percent in this bellwether county, which Bill Clinton won in 1996 and John Kerry lost in 2004. Greenberg found that a third of Macomb voters were worried that Obama “will put the interests of black Americans ahead of other Americans,” but concluded that Macomb’s voters “do not seem to be voting predominately on race.” Instead, he contended that Macomb voters are more worried about Obama raising taxes.

Concerns about Obama’s race and his being a tax-and-spend liberal, however, are intricately related. Psychological studies showing that white voters will judge a black candidate to be less competent also show that they will judge a black candidate with the same views as a white one to be less moderate and more leftwing. Worries about race reinforce worries about taxing and spending.

So Obama starts the general election with a large handicap that he has to overcome. And as voters have begun to focus on the choice between him and McCain, and as the McCain campaign has gone on the attack against Obama’s experience and ideology, these handicaps have become much more serious.

Judis makes another valid point about the Obama “hauteur”:

I want to say one final thing; it’s about Obama’s oratorical style. In response to the criticisms of his Berlin speech, some Democrats suggested that Obama should tone down his high style and seek a more direct conversational approach, even at the risk of being dull. That would be a tragic error. Obama’s mistake was giving an uplifting speech to a huge crowd in Berlin; not giving an uplifting speech. High-flown oratory has always played a very large role in American politics–going back to Daniel Webster and Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson–and Obama’s ability to perform in that manner is one of his greatest strengths. Obama’s presentation isn’t the problem; it is his message.

That message should cause blood to flow from Republican ears!

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