Much of the argument for the centrality of race in this election hinges on the so-called Bradley effect. In 1982, Tom Bradley, Los Angeles' black mayor, was polling well among white voters in the race for California governor. Bradley lost, suggesting that large numbers of whites had lied to pollsters about their intention to vote for him.
I have no doubt that the Bradley effect is real. But the Bradley effect does not reflect racism; it captures voters' fear of appearing racist. There's no reason to assume those who lie to pollsters are racists. But for Obama supporters and the media, poll results are some kind of sacred, binding covenant. If voters don't keep their promise, the media have no problem seeing racism at work.
The media's obsession with race in this election is probably fueling the Bradley effect. Repeating over and over that voting against Obama is racist only makes non-racist people embarrassed to admit that they plan to vote for McCain.
Another rich irony is that the only racists who matter in this election are the ones in the Democratic Party. News flash: Republicans aren't voting for the Democratic nominee because they're Republicans. A new AP-Yahoo News poll claims that racial prejudice is a significant factor among the independents and Democrats Obama needs to win, specifically among Hillary Clinton's primary voters. According to the pollsters' statistical modeling, support for Obama may be as much as 6 percentage points lower than it would be if there were no white racism.
I'm skeptical about those findings, as well as the overemphasis on race generally. But to the extent that race is a factor, here's the richest irony of all: Obama's problem is with precisely those voters the Democratic Party claims to fight for, working- and middle-class white folks. Of course, Democrats can't openly complain that their own vital constituency is racist.
If the media were more objective, we'd be hearing a lot more about the racism at the heart of the Democratic Party. (Imagine if the black nominee this year were a Republican!) But such objectivity would cause too much cognitive dissonance for a press corps that defines "racist" as shorthand for Republican and sees itself as the publicity arm of the Obama campaign.