Leave Feedback

Black candidate: Bane or boon?

Tom Jackson • Mar 23, 2010 at 6:27 PM

Jacob Weisberg at Slate magazine has a provocative piece arguing that if Barack Obama loses the fall election, racism is the only factor that could explain the loss.

Weisberg has at least half a point. He cites polling data that shows resistance to a black candidate among older white voters -- any black candidate -- and I have noticed anecdotal evidence that seems to support Weisberg's point. (Here's a phone message left for me Aug. 6 by what sounded like an older white guy with a Southern accent: "I have a very serious question I want to leave for the entire staff to think over. In case Obama is elected president this coming fall, how long do you think it may take our country to turn into another South Africa or Zimbabwe? Thank you." Hey, you're welcome.)

But there's an obvious flaw in Weisberg's piece: He doesn't try to explore how being black also will help Sen. Obama's cause.

For example, it's widely expected that the opportunity to help elect the first black president in U.S. history will inspire a large black turnout, and that black voters will support the Democratic ticket overwhelmingly.

I also suspect there are at least some non-black voters who oppose racism and would therefore be inclined to support Obama, all things being equal.

I'm not arguing, by the way, that black voters would automatically support any black candidate. If the Democratic candidate was Sen. Hillary Clinton, and the Republican candidate was, say, former Congressman J.C. Watts, I am sure most black voters would go for Clinton. I am only arguing that Obama is the Democratic candidate who is likely to get particularly strong black support.

More on all this tomorrow.

Recommended for You