Jonah Goldberg

"Bill Clinton: Obama's White Half Won Maine," read the headline on the humor site Scrappleface this week. "Obama gets to play both sides of the race card," a fictional Bill Clinton told the site. "I told you he won South Carolina because he's black, like Jesse Jackson. So, to be consistent, I'd have to say he won Maine because he's white like Michael Dukakis."

There's more than a little truth here. It seems that Barack Obama can win blacks and that he can win whites; where he has trouble, electorally speaking, is winning blacks and whites.

You wouldn't know this from all the resplendent rhetoric about Obama's gorgeous mosaic of a campaign. Indeed, the audacity of Obama's hype is a marvel to behold.

"This is it," Obama proclaimed during his victory speech on Super Tuesday. "We are the ones we've been waiting for, we are the change that we seek." Obama insists that his is the campaign for those who want to move "beyond race," and, let the record show, there is a powerful thirst for a post-racial America, not least among conservatives.

So let us stipulate that it would indeed be wonderful if America could move beyond the intergenerational venom, guilt-mongering, orchestrated offense-taking and entrenched animosity that has characterized much of the black-white relationship over the years. Let us also concede that this is what Obama wants to do and what his followers want from him.

There remains the inconvenient question: Does it make any sense?

Rather than serving to heal America's racial wounds, maybe Obama's campaign is more like a dye marker that helps us better diagnose the complexity of the problem.

Obama has had his greatest success winning white votes in states that are nearly all white, particularly those with caucuses. In non-homogeneously white states, he's only won when he's added enormous shares of black votes to his prosperous white liberal base - as he did in South Carolina.

But in states that actually "look like America," he tends to get beaten by Hillary Clinton. He lost melting-pot states such as Nevada, California, Massachusetts and New York largely because he couldn't accumulate nearly enough white or Latino votes.

Some on the right have mischievously alleged anti-black sentiment among Latinos as one reason why Obama fails to gain Latino support. Many liberals have worried about a "Bradley effect" - named for former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley - whereby secretly racist white liberals say they will vote for the black guy but don't follow through.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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