If Barack Obama’s primary campaign had had a Broadway theme song, surely it would have been “One Enchanted Evening” from “South Pacific;” Democrats saw “a stranger from across a crowded room” and fell for him – hard. But in the general election, the words have changed and the song no longer remains the same. Last week, it became clear that the Rogers & Hammerstein classic has been replaced by an anthem from the modern Broadway hit “Avenue Q”: “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist.”
CNN’s Jack Cafferty surely spoke for legions of Obama supporters – and doubtless, a good deal of the press – when he proclaimed that it “doesn’t make sense” that the presidential polls remain neck-and-neck “unless it’s race.” In fact, by week’s end, the Associated Press was touting a poll it conducted with Yahoo News finding that one-third of Democrats “harbor negative views toward blacks.” From that, AP reporters concluded, “the percentage of voters who may turn away from Obama because of his race could easily be larger than the final difference between the candidates in 2004.” In other words, they claimed that voter racism alone could cost Barack Obama the election.
Certainly, the meme perfectly encapsulates elite views on the “latent racism” of regular Americans. The only problem? It’s logically flawed. It suggests that just because some voters may “harbor negative views” about African Americans in the abstract, they will refuse to vote for this particular African-American candidate just on that basis.
The piece undermines its own premise by conceding, “Many whites who see blacks in a negative light are still willing or even eager to vote for Obama.” Of course they are. Despite even negative preconceptions, people are capable of evaluating specific individuals on their own merits. That’s why – so long as he remains vigorous and seems in good health -- John McCain can still hope to win over those who generally believe that the seventy-plus set belongs in retirement homes, not The White House.
Or take gender as an example. No doubt plenty of men who would label women as “flighty” or “over-emotional” in the abstract are ardent supporters of Sarah Palin. And feminists like Gloria Steinem – who have eagerly purveyed negative stereotypes about men in general – have been enraptured with Bill Clinton, a man whose personal behavior encapsulates everything they purport to oppose.