Obama Opposition (Mostly) Not About Race
There a pretty simple reason it’s so hard to extricate the issue of Obama’s race from general opposition to Obama’s policies: A very large chunk of the people predisposed to oppose Obama’s policies are also racists.
Not a nice thing to say? I’m being unfair? I’m part of the liberal media conspiracy?
Believe what you want. But pay attention to the numbers. And see at the end how this basic demographic fact can be flipped on its head to create a statement Obama’s opponents would probably agree with. To the science…
(the political science, anyway)
You may have seen this research, showing that racial resentment is strongly correlated with opposition to health-care reform. Basically, if you’re white and you don’t much like black people, you are more likely to oppose health-care reform; if you’re white and you don’t have a problem with black people, you’re much more likely to support health-care reform. What’s more, this racial correlation exists today, in the 2009 health-care debate; it didn’t exist when a white Democrat, Bill Clinton, tried to pass health-care reform back in 1994.
End of story? Not really.
While this correlation — and the fact that it exists for Obama and didn’t for Clinton — might seem conclusive, it actually paints a very incomplete picture. What’s changed between 1994 and today is not just the color of the president’s skin. It’s that the nation’s two major political parties are polarized along racial lines as never before. And this trend didn’t start with Obama’s run in 2008, it started in the 1990s.
Take a look at these two graphs, from Enik Rising:
Agree or disagree: “Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class.”
Agree or disagree: “Irish, Italians, Jewish and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should to the same without any special favors.”
In both graphs, you can see the parties splitting, starting in around 1990, with the widest gap in 2004. Whatever you think of the answers to these questions, the point is that the parties polarized regarding race, roughly coinciding with the rise of the GOP majority on the twin issues of welfare reform and crime. And that polarization hasn’t reversed.
Put another way: Whites in the South are the most anti-black group in America; a lot more whites in the South are now Republicans than were at the beginning of the 1990s.
What this all adds up to is that both of these statements can be true at the same time:
1) Many of Obama’s opponents harbor a significant amount of racial resentment against black people.
2) To quote Bill Clinton: “100% of those who are opposing him now would be against him if he were a white Democrat.”
Opposition to Obama is tied up with race because party identification in America is tied up with race. Are there some racist idiots at many of the GOP rallies? Yes. Would there be sexist idiots if Hillary Clinton were president? Also yes. Would any Democratic president be able to reform the entire health-care system — or undertake any major government-growing reform — without significant opposition from roughly the same group of people who are out protesting today? Absolutely not.