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Guest Blog Pundit Tyler Carpenter: Racism and the Democratic Campaign

    As we noted recently, it's always been our view that blogs belong to the people who read them and post. So, in that spirit, the Tote Board has been seeking anyone interested to file guest blog dispatches. The requirements are that, as always in this space, the blogger attempt to provide good, dispassionate analysis of the race. It's nice to be a partisan but this isn't the blog for that.  Please address any interest and inquiries to Steven Stark's email, listed below.

    It probably goes without saying but these guest posts represent the views of the author, not my (Steven Stark's) views.

    Over to Tyler Carpenter:


    Recent campaign and media events have exposed American divisions across racial lines.  Some events, like the "3 AM commercial" with it's subtle images of sleeping white children who need protection (images eerily similar to those in the film "Birth of a Nation", some 90 years ago) are subtle, and relatively unnoticed by the mainstream media; others, like the overtly racist message of Ferraro's recent comments, have caused much finger pointing.  But the messages of this Democratic campaign season -- moving from hope and racial unity to fear and racial division -- are significantly changing the direction of this primary.  This change benefits the Hillary Clinton campaign in a very significant manner.  It may give her the nomination.

    I offer 2 recent examples from the past week:

    The first example is the (very funny) Saturday Night Live skit . The sketch, played at the very beginning of the show, when the ratings are highest, plays into almost every negative African American stereotype -- the shiftless, stupid, profanity-filled, drug-abusing man who gets a job for which he is totally unqualified and needs help from the eminently qualified more deserving (white) person.  When you combine this with the previous SNL skits that promote the message that Obama isn't being properly examined by an overly fawning media, you get a very clear message: The black candidate is where he is primarily because of his race, and that he probably doesn't deserve to be there.

    The second example is the recent Ferraro comment, where she says that Obama's successful candidacy is due solely to his race. Like the SNL piece, it couches racist views in politically correct language.  While Ferraro might not see herself as holding racist views, her statement delivers a subtle implication that we, the voters, only support his candidacy because of his race, and that Obama's professional and political success is due to a subtle, liberal form of reverse discrimination.

    The change in the nature of this campaign is already having effects. These effects benefit the Clinton campaign.  The first sign of success in her revamped campaign message was in the results of the Mississippi Democratic primary.  While most of the broadcast media focused on "another easy and expected win for the Obama campaign", the real story is the divisive nature of the victory.  According to exit poll numbers, over 90 percent of African Americans voted for Obama. Almost 75 percent of non-Hispanic white people voted for Clinton.  This shows two things: (1) the percentage of African Americans who vote for Obama is increasing slightly (from about 80% to about 90%), and (2) the percentage of non-African Americans who vote for Obama is decreasing -- significantly and rapidly.  It marks the first time that "white" people voted in wide numbers against Obama, and as we move to Pennsylvania, a state where a much smaller percentage of the Democratic voting population is African American, it shows a possible opening in Obama's campaign message where Clinton's message can drive a wedge between different factions that make up Obama's core support.

    One of Karl Rove's tenets of campaign wisdom was to "find your opponent's strongest point and undermine its effectiveness".  In 2000, Al Gore's strength was his policy knowledge and his interest in identifying solutions to difficult problems.  The undermining was to imply that "he really wasn't that smart" or that "he was a know-it-all".  John Kerry's strength was his war record and his ability to see both sides of thorny issues. The undermining there was to imply that he "really wasn't that brave" or that he "can't make a decision". Barack Obama's strength is his ability to organize and to bring people with differing political viewpoints together.  His undermining message will one that implies that "he really isn't that organized" or that, because of age and his oratorical skills, "he really doesn't work hard".  By subtly but repeatedly working the racial divides in our country, the Clinton campaign intends to get voters to consider the idea that, despite his professional and political success, Barack Obama might be nothing more than "an uppity, lazy and ignorant ***". Certainly, no person associated with the Clinton campaign will ever say this -- that message is too crude and offensive.  We voters may never realize we're thinking this -- after all, "we're not racists".  But the message will be there, disguised in subtlety or humor or politically correct language, and we'll hear it.  Then we'll vote.

    This tactic could work.  It already started paying results in Mississippi, and from the early numbers in Pennsylvania -- where a recent poll shows Clinton's lead extending to almost 20 points -- it will work there too.  This election is far from over, but if I were a betting person, my money would be on Clinton at this point.  Her campaign has finally found its voice.  We the voters will respond appropriately.

  • Vic in Chicago said:

    Tyler -

    You say that your "money would be on Clinton".  May I ask why?

    For Clinton to win the nomination, she must do one of two things at this point.

    First, she can try to pass Obama in pledged delegates.  However, under the Democrats' proportional delegate selection rules, that is virtually impossible.  Under the most optimistic assumptions for her in all the remaining primaries, including re-votes in Michigan and Florida, she can't get there from here.  When her campaign fell into disarray in February and lost 11 in a row, she fell so far behind in delegates that, ignoring all the spin about "momentum", she can't catch up.

    So, her only other choice is to hope that the superdelegates, which continue to bleed away from her to this day, will for some reason be willing to ignite a war within the Party and award the nomination to her instead of the candidate with the most pledged delegates - Obama.  Do you really think that will happen?

    If not, just how is she going to win the nomination?

    Vic in Chicago

    March 15, 2008 5:45 PM
  • Tyler said:

    The short answer to your question, Vic:  I think it's a good possibility that Clinton wants the nomination enough to risk the view that she got it over the will of the primary voters.  Bill Clinton was never one to give up a fight early, and Hillary appears to have the same kind of determination.  If she believes that she can pull it off, then she'll do whatever it takes, with the belief that we Democrats will return to her campaign when this fight's over.

    The longer answer to your question -- right now, the odds on the Democratic nomination are running about 3:1 in Obama's favor (see for up-to-the-minute changes), so when I'd "put my money on Clinton" given the changing nature of this campaign, it's with those kinds of odds.  

    You are correct in your mathematics. From a delegate-collection point of view, Obama will win -- by about 100-120 delegates, by my math -- in pledged delegates (assuming no change in MI and FL, a 60-40 Clinton split in PA, a 55-45 Obama split in NC and other contests evening out), and with Clinton's current small lead (about 40) in superdelegates, it'll take about a 2:1 split in her favor of the uncommitted superdelegates to win the nomination. It's certainly possible, and given the nature of this campaign, I'd be tempted to give it a 35-50% chance of it occurring.

    It would seriously damage the party if this is to happen.  But neither her campaign nor Obama's campaign seems able to control the message, so as certain nasty issues raise their heads -- and racism is one of them -- the campaign season may take a turn that favors one candidate or the other.  

    My point in the article is that as long as racism remains a simmering and just-under-the-conscious-radar issue (an issue that appeals to people's subconscious fears), the campaign dynamic will favor Clinton.


    A couple of items on my post that I'd like to clarify:

    First, I wrote that piece on Wednesday morning, after the Mississippi results were in and before the Ferraro story (which had been out for several days) went "nuclear".  It was also a day or two before the issue with Obama's pastor's statement came out.  It had struck me that the "momentum" of this campaign season had changed somewhat, and the only item I could see changing it was the bubbling to the surface of the "race issue" in a way that the "gender issue" was not being seen.  My point was not that the Clinton campaign was behind this (at least not directly). It was that her campaign's interests get served as people racial fears are aroused in a subtle manner.

    In the 3 days since I wrote this piece, several items have happened that give me hope that the subtle racism of the past month will be replaced by a full-force media spotlight on this issue.  

    First the Ferraro quote received the full media spotlight, and she (unwisely) was quite uncontrite in her expressions about it. Most of the mainstream media is pretty unsympathetic to her statements, even if many Americans agree with Ferraro (but are unwilling to admit it).  We'll see the level of agreement with Ferraro's statement when we see exit polling results in Pennsylvania.

    Secondly, Obama's pastor recently made some statements that were pretty offensive, and have elevated race into the political dialog, and have put Obama on the defensive with this issue.  Barack Obama has had to repudiate his pastor's statements (as well as those of Louis Farrakhan) even as John McCain accepts the endorsement of pastor John Hagee -- whose statements about Muslims have been comparably racist.  It's a fine line that Obama has to tread here, and his ability to deal with it in a way that doesn't cause Americans to react to their own prejudices will be a test of his ability to deliver an inclusive message and have us (the voting public) believe it.

    Finally, Hillary Clinton herself issued an apology for Ferraro's comments.  Her apology appears to be sincere, and if it is, then she will do what she can to emphasize that this primary is about something other than race or affirmative action or "lack of experience".  

    Unfortunately, the "Obama is unqualified to be President" card is all she can play right now, and that card represents a subtle form of racism on her campaign's part.  If this issue goes away, her campaign is sunk.  Like Obama's needing to deal with his pastor's messages, this talking point will a tricky one for her campaign make, and it'll only work if we (the voting public) don't see it as an appeal to our own prejudices.

    So it's an interesting campaign season, and within the last couple of days, we've seen both candidates need to directly grapple with an unwanted issue of racist behavior in their midst.  Obama's campaign will be helped if we're either able to believe it's not an issue, or if we have to deal with the issue directly.  Clinton's campaign will be helped if we don't deal with this issue directly, but we still spend the campaign season thinking about it.

    I know it's a long answer to a pretty short question. But I hope it clarifies a few things.


    March 15, 2008 8:01 PM
  • Vic in Chicago said:

    Tyler -

    Thanks for your thoughtful response.

    I think we agree that the delegate math definitely works in Obama's favor, and is not likely to change substantially in the remaining primaries/caucuses.

    However, we also probably agree that there are several "issues" that are swirling around that have the potential to fundamentally alter the contest.  One of course is race, as you so skillfully wrote about it in your post.  That can cut several ways, and as we've seen in the last several days (Ferraro, Obama's pastor) the ground can shift on a daily basis.

    Another issue is just how much of the earth Hillary is willing to scorch to wrest the nomination from Obama.  I agree with you that the Clintons - plural - will resort to virtually anything to win.  And that can be troublesome for the Democratic Party.  Her assertions  that Obama is unprepared to be Commander in Chief are like handing John McCain a loaded gun.

    Another potential - however unlikely - is if the Clintons get dirtier and dirtier, how long are the remaining Democratic powers-that-be who are uncommitted willing to stand idly by.  If, after Pennsylvania, Clinton is mathematically unable to win enough pledged delegates, and is not making any progress in superdelgates, but continues to throw firebombs left and right and vows to march on to Denver, what are Howard Dean, and Al Gore, and Jimmy Carter, and John Edwards, and Bill Richardson, and Joe Biden, and Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid, etc. going to do?  Will they step in and pressure her to drop out?

    I don't know, but, as you say, this thing isn't over yet.


    March 15, 2008 9:21 PM
  • LorenzoJennifer said:

    Geraldine Ferraro, in 1984, played the gender card to rally or fortify women voters for the Mondale-Ferraro ticket. Geraldine Ferraro, dealing from a new deck, now plays the race card.  Ferraro's actions represent the tactic of eating-your-cake-and-having-it-too.  While citing "reverse racism" as a reason for white support for Barack Obama, she artfully avoids an attack on Obama but comments instead on a voting tendency.  Rescinding her remark let's her still have her cake.  Of course, issuing an incendiary remark draws far more attention than withdrawing from that remark.

    The Barack Attack continues as Hillary Clinton seeks to trivialize Obama.  Many of her stump speeches these days state that Obama's opposition to the Iraq War consists of a speech he gave in 2002.  

    Barack's strength to organize and bring together persons of different viewpoints, as noted well by Tyler, resides in the binding curve of his charisma.  Charisma, in a Karl Rove estimation, would be Barack's strongest quality.  Camp Clinton will intensify its "de-mythologization" of Barack Obama. If successful, the emperor will soon have no clothes.

    An unwilling and unwitting ally in bringin' down Barack is the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., Barack's bud-bud who officiated at his marriage to Michelle and baptized their two daughters. Obama, prior to his campaign start, reportedly wrote a $22,000 check to Rev. Wright's church where he continues as a member.   Yet he specifically disinvited Rev. Wright to his campaign announcement.  Rev. Wright's rhetoric, while intending to build solidarity in the African-American community, is red meat to Camp Clinton.  Rev. Wright's affiliation with Barack may be readily joined to his remarks.  Ferraro's statement gains renewed force that white Americans are fools for voting for Obama and - by extension - agreeing with Wright. Sen. Obama's criticism of Rev. Wright's comments serves to give them more air-time and press space.

    The Democratic Party may truly be having a "change-over" year in 2008.  Will the convention select a well-known and deeply-connected establishment figure who echoes the past or will the party recognize and accept leadership from a person of color who grew up in the first post-Civil Rights Era generation?  The Democratic donkey will take one - but only one - of those two dissimilar paths in departing Denver.

    March 16, 2008 7:18 PM
  • LorenzoJennifer said:

    Note to Tyler and Vic . . . . . .

    A Toteboard posting on March 3 - located under "Preview of Mini Super Tuesday" - looked at how delegates would have been assigned had the Michigan and Florida primary results been recognized by the Democratic National Committee (DNC).  In the Florida primary (Jan. 29), unlike Michigan (Jan. 15), all the then-active candidates were on the ballot.  We speculated that Hillary Clinton would have come out with about a net 104 delegates more than Barack Obama, thereby dramatically closing the gap in pledged delegates.  As noted, these numbers were completely hypothetical as the DNC did not recognize the primaries.  There's talk now of having a second round of primaries in Michigan and Florida. If the January primaries in Michigan and Florida are reliable indicators, then Clinton could draw closer - if not pass - Obama in pledged delegates should those primaries be again held.  We can look closer at this possibility should the DNC authorize re-voting in Michigan and Florida.

    March 17, 2008 4:36 PM
  • LorenzoJennifer said:

    In the interests of equal time (heh), what about RACISM AND THE REPUBLICAN CAMPAIGN?  Seems that the GOP is gearing up for a presidential contest between their White Male American candidate (describes 'em all with the exception of Alan Keyes, but be serious) against EITHER the nation's first woman or first African-American candidate. Double dare any campaign consultant to come forward and 'fess up that (s)he is advising a candidate on race-bias or gender-bias strategies to victory.  John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Willard Mitt Romney ducked a PBS-sponsored, Tavis Smiley-moderated debate at "historically Black" Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland (the description is the college's own) a few months ago.  They pled previous committments, though the invitations were set and sent in mid-winter 2007 for that year's mid-summer debate. While Black-American support for GOP presidential candidates is historically between 10% and 13% nationally, about 15% of registered Ohio Black voters went for Bush over Kerry in 2004.  Many credit this increased turnout as giving Ohio - and the presidency - to Bush. Edward W. Brooke III of Massachusetts, a Republican, was America's first popularly-elected Black-American US Senator. Among other persons of color, Bush got around 35% of the Latin-American vote in 2000 and about 40% in 2004.

    Will be interesting to see how the Geezers On Prilosec finally get around to pitching their wares to voters of color in 2008.

    March 18, 2008 1:20 PM
  • Tyler said:

    Thank you Lorenzo (Jennifer?) for your comments (and for your comment on my previous article as well).  I have a couple of short responses as well to your points.

    First, as far as the Jeremiah Wright issue goes, his words and delivery are quite similar to what you would hear in many "black churches" (inner-city Baptist or AME churches with charismatic African American preachers).  To listen to them sympathetically is to understand the failure of white liberalism to address the problems of black and brown people.  To listen to them critically (or hostilely) is to close your mind to their message and not understand the level of injustice that exists in America.  His words and speeches have been around for a while -- it's simply a matter of coincidence that they should appear as the race issue comes to a head. And like every other race issue that has permeated the last few weeks of this campaign, the fallout is benefiting the Clinton campaign.

    The evidence:  A <a href="">current poll</a> in PA show Clinton widening her lead -- to 26 points:  56 - 30.

    Second, I wouldn't plan on doing a piece on racism and the Republican primary mainly because there is not much of a contest there any more, and -- as a party that espouses ideology and faith over diversity and evidence, there's not much interesting material about the Republican Party with regard to economic or race issues.  When you have only two basic coalitions -- Christian fundamentalists and libertarian activists, there's not much room for analysis.  As a party, the Republicans' strength lies in the simplicity of their ideology and the trust in the messages of their leaders.  The Republican voter (and that comprises between 40 and 50% of the electorate) simply lives in a different world, with different stories and different rules than does the Democratic voter or the mainstream media.


    March 21, 2008 12:42 PM
  • LorenzoJennifer said:

    Thank You!, Tyler, for your well-reasoned, well-presented and insightful contributions. You've started more than a few dialogues in the group and that's all to the good.

    While Black Americans have a pretty good idea of what white Americans are thinking, white Americans don't have much of an idea of what Black Americans are thinking.  'Twere white Americans who were - as they say - &quot;shocked, do you hear, shocked&quot; - at what Rev. Wright has been saying all these years.  And many white Americans were surprised at the size of his following.

    Barack is to be commended for condemning the sin while embracing  the sinner.

    Campaign activities take a while to take root and grow in the minds of voters.  Bill Clinton's post-South Carolina primary remarks took a while to begin their desired effect - though lessened and muted - of &quot;pigeon-holing&quot; Obama as the candidate of Black America.  Geraldine Ferraro's remarks were intended primarily for her political audience - liberal whites, especially women, who backed Obama.  If Barack can bring out Teddy and Caroline Kennedy on his side, then Hillary countered with the Democratic Party's 1984 VP nominee on her side.  Could be that Barack's backers are experiencing &quot;buyer's remorse.&quot; They're taking a second look - perhaps their first really long look - at the candidate to whom they readily gave their contributions and votes.  Now that he's actually in the lead - (gasp)! - perhaps they feel it's time to settle down and think it all over.  Barack needs a second act. Subsequent commentaries on race relations from either him or others may be part of it.  Hillary, in that dialogue, is at best a supporting player.

    My Republican references were not to suggest that anyone write about racism or racist initiatives in the GOP.  Simply to remind us all - myself included, at times - that the Republicans are very active, despite all the attention having been drawn to the Democratic contests.

    March 21, 2008 9:14 PM
  • LorenzoJennifer said:

    Note to Tyler . . .

    While I am very reluctant to discuss religion in public, something needs to be said about your remarks in reference to houses where Black Americans worship.  I'm one whose religious journeys have included my worshiping in inner-city Baptist churches and African Methodist Episcopal churches, among others. To state that the remarks of Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., are found in inner-city Baptist churches, AME churches (with or without a charismatic African-American pastor) is plain and simple wrong.  The remarks of Rev. Wright are unique to Rev. Wright. Do some parishoners themselves think in ways suggested by Rev. Wright?  Yes. Do ministers in those churches include those sentiments in their sermons? Absolutely not!  One may wish to add the United Church of Christ denomination to the afore-mentioned group. For that is the church affiliation of Trinity United Church of Christ where Rev. Wright served as pastor.

    Barack Obama, in his adress, managed to seperate Rev. Wright's comments from Rev. Wright himself.  He failed to sever the sermons of Rev. Wright from the main body of teachings characteristic of inner-city Baptist churches, AME churches and charismatic African-American preachers. They perform the work of the Lord in direct opposition to the messages suggested in the uniquely personal and political sermons of Rev. Wright.

    March 22, 2008 12:24 PM
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