Although there's got to be some truth to this at the margins, I think it's mostly hogwash. Still, it says something fascinating about our political and racial landscape that the Democratic voters with the most experience living in multiracial, multicultural communities are the ones most immune to Obama's "beyond race" rhetoric. At the same time, the whitest states are the most gaga for Obama. (He beat Clinton 80 percent to 17 percent in white-supremacist-rich Idaho.)
One possible explanation for this might be found in the work of Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam. In 2006, the scholar of civil society and author of "Bowling Alone" released some controversial findings: The more diverse a community, the less trusting it becomes.
"In the presence of diversity, we hunker down," he told the Financial Times. "The effect of diversity is worse than had been imagined. And it's not just that we don't trust people who are not like us. In diverse communities, we don't trust people who do look like us." Social trust was at its absolute lowest in Los Angeles, one of America's most diverse cities, Putnam found.
The hard interpretation would be that diversity does in fact breed racism and ethnic resentment. But a softer, and I think slightly more plausible, reading would be that increased diversity breeds not so much resentment as realism - at least among rank-and-file voters.
It's easy for upscale liberals to talk about the glories of diversity because they live at Olympian heights, above the reality of multicultural America. For Obama's wealthy, white, liberal supporters, diversity is knowing a rich black lawyer, a wealthy Latino accountant and lots of well-to-do gay folks.
Meanwhile, for working-class white liberals who live in places such as Iowa or Maine, it's easy to see our racial divide in almost purely theoretical terms and therefore believe that purely rhetorical responses are sufficient; Obama says the right words, and that's all we need.
But for much of the rest of the country, people are more skeptical that high-flying talk about diversity and unity, married to fairly conventional liberal policies on affirmative action, immigration and the like, will do much to solve the real problems we face. They may have never heard such rhetoric delivered so well. But they've certainly heard it before.
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