Thursday, February 7, 2008

Race and the California Primary

Race Politics Are Everywhere and Nowhere
The race question in this presidential election seems to be everywhere and nowhere. It's the first time an African American has a credible chance of becoming President, but neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton has made race a point of contention.

The brief ruckus when Clinton suggested Lyndon Johnson was more important than Martin Luther King Jr. in passing the Civil Rights Bill was about different views of how power works, not race, and has been largely forgotten. Both Obama and Clinton credibly avow commitments to people of color, and their social and economic policies will have roughly the same effects.

The White House Must Stay White

Nonetheless the media have played up the possibility that the electorate will remain fixated on race. The angle has been that people of color are worried that the White majority will not countenance a Black president (unless he's in a television show starring Kiefer Sutherland). A journalist for Politico posted an article just before the South Carolina election claiming "Black Voters Fear DC Unready for Black President," and then Obama went on to win all but three counties in that state. But that same night Latino voters in Nevada went for Clinton.

Si Se Puede?
Race has been a factor, but not in the way the pundits predicted. In the topsy turvy racial politics of the U.S., Obama, the "si se puede" candidate, the only one who supports drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants, is losing among Mexican-Americans and winning among White men. Exit polls showed that White men supported Obama by 18 points over Clinton. Meanwhile, Black voters have refuted anecdotal accounts of their anxieties. He's receiving around 85% of the African-American vote.

Why Clinton's Brown Appeal?
In last night's California primary, Latinos voted 2 to 1 for Clinton and Asian Americans voted for her 3 to 1. Why were African Americans and White men in an alliance that did not include Latinos and Asian Americans? There probably is no single explanation but one clear result is that the voters who may keep Obama out of the White House are more likely to be from the barrios than Beverly Hills. (Image is from appearance at National Council of Law Raza.)

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