Race is the original sin of American history. To deny its influence on our society is as futile as it is illogical. Nevertheless, the attempt to cast President Obama’s re-election campaign as the focus of a racial backlash seems to be more about obfuscating the issues that are animating the vast majority of voters than providing any insight into public opinion.
Yet that is very much the conceit of a front-page feature in today’s New York Times titled, “Four Years Later, Race is Still Issue for Some Voters.” The Times’ Jeff Zeleny was sent to Steubenville, Ohio and beat the bushes to find some racists and found a few, though they seemed to come in some unlikely varieties. The piece failed to explain why if the president won this crucial swing state in 2008 he should be worried about the minority of voters who hold his skin color and ethnicity against him now. As should be apparent even to the Times editor who ordered up this tired attempt to revive the race canard against the Republicans, if the president’s hold on the state seems shaky — as polls say it is — it is clearly not because the portion of the electorate that is irredeemably prejudiced still won’t vote for him but because others who did (and therefore demonstrated their lack of racial bias) now judge his performance unsatisfactory.
It is undeniable that there are those in our country who still judge people principally by their race. That is unfortunate, and we can hope that the diminishing numbers of those who fall into that category will continue to decrease. President Obama is right when he says he does not think his election forever ended the discussion of race in America. But it did mean that the majority of Americans were no longer so constricted by prejudice so as to render it impossible for an African-American to be elected president. Indeed, as some of those quoted by Zeleny rightly point out, a desire to demonstrate a lack of prejudice as well as a wish to right some historic wrongs, played a not insignificant role in the Obama triumph in 2008.