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August 04, 2008

Williams: The Race Issue Isn't Going Away

Juan Williams in the Journal:

Mr. Obama has shown an unprecedented ability to cross the racial divide in American politics. He did particularly well in managing caucus states, such as Iowa, where highly energized supporters, especially idealistic young white supporters, minimized the impact of negative racial attitudes with passionate participation.

But the white Democratic caucus voters in Iowa, where there are relatively few racial issues, are decidedly more liberal than white voters nationally. In primary states from New Hampshire to Texas and California, Mr. Obama lost when one of two things happened. Either working-class white voters did not participate in polls, or some white voters lied and told pollsters they planned to vote for him before casting their votes for another candidate.

When you find yourself stuck in a hole, the first thing you need to do is STOP DIGGING. At this point it doesn't matter who played the race card first, though as Williams writes, the Obama campaign doesn't even claim to have a clear example of a racist Republican attack. The longer the story sticks around, the more damage it will do to Obama because it makes people feel uncomfortable.

Yes, racial attacks make people angry and if Obama managed to tar McCain by accusing him, that might move a few voters to the polls. But he's spending most of his time trying to convince people that an attack even occurred. His version of the truth, "they're being racist at me!" doesn't comport with the facts, so he's not going to reach anyone not already predisposed to "sensitivity" to race issues.

Instead, all he's doing is seeing to it that a whole lot of people continue to feel uncomfortable. I'm not talking about the people who know his bleating is meritless or their opposites, the folks who think he's their long-awaited savior. I'm talking about the large group of people who are only vaguely politically aware. All they know right now is that a presidential candidate is making a wishy-washy claim of unfairness on account of race. That makes people uncomfortable.

I'm sure you've been in a situation where someone else in the room with you begins to make a scene. They start by talking too loud and escalate to outright screaming about whatever it is that's bothering them. And somewhere along the line they will look to you, the bystander, and plead unfairness. "Don't you agree with me?" they ask. But you know, because you're not an idiot, that their version of the facts may not necessarily be the truth. So you do what we all do: you refuse to meet their eyes. You shuffle your feet. You get uncomfortable.

Obama is making a scene. And his version of the facts doesn't seem to be the truth, but he doesn't care, he's asking all those middle-ground, undecided voters anyway: "don't you think the racism against me is unfair?" Instead of answering, undecided America is shuffling its feet and refusing to meet his eyes. He's made them profoundly uncomfortable.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 01:33 PM

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