Sunday, May 29, 2011

What to expect as the 2012 race heats up

Jack White over at The Root, talks about something I have been saying for awhile now...he is predicting that the 2012 Presidential race will be "the nastiest, most racially charged presidential campaign in decades, perhaps even since the Civil War." But rather than that being about the specific Republicans who are going to run, its about "the underlying social context in which the race will unfold."

White lists three reasons for this prediction:

White people are really angry. According to a hugely publicized study by Tufts University researchers, a growing number of whites believe that race relations are a zero-sum game in which every inch of black progress is offset by an increase in discrimination against whites...The most obvious symbol of black progress -- and of their own setbacks -- is none other than the man who will be at the top of the Democratic ticket next year: the first African-American president.

This first reason is all about the man Barack Obama himself - the "other" that threatens the very heart of white privilege.

The Republicans don't have winning issues. The triumph of Democrat Kathy Hochul this week in a special election in a historically conservative district in upstate New York underscores my belief that when right-leaning Republicans actually spell out what they stand for, independent voters flee in droves...

...the Republican nominee will have no bold new ideas to push. The much ballyhooed job-creation plan that the GOP released this week is just more of the same-old, same-old combination of tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations and a pullback on regulation that got us into this economic mess. And with the death of Osama bin Laden, any attempt to paint Obama as a weak commander-in-chief chief will be an exercise in futility.

This is something I've talked about before. White adds the important piece about the death of Osama and how that takes much of the Republican attack line off the table. They really are left with nothing to defend when it comes to policies the voting public can embrace.

Finally, Obama's critics on the left have opened the floodgates. One of the unintended consequences of Cornel West's impassioned recent attack on Obama is that by sinking into ad hominem claims about the president's character, he implicitly sanctioned the validity of similar charges from the right.

WOW! That's the most powerful critique I've seen of West's diatribe. The fact is that he joined the Tea Partiers in putting President Obama's race on the table as a topic for discussion when evaluating his performance. In other words, he joined them in the "othering."

The only thing I'd add to White's analysis is the work that Ron Brownstein did conflating our changing demographics with 2008 voting and race. His conclusion was that the only way the Republicans could win would be to keep Obama's share of the white vote under 40%. How they're likely to do this - given their dearth of policy ideas - will be to send out racial dog whistles to raise the level of fear and division.

So I'd suggest that we batten down the hatches and get ready for a bumpy ride. I can think of no other leader in my lifetime who is more prepared and skilled at handling this kind of thing than our current President. It wouldn't surprise me if before this is over, he finds himself needing to give another speech on race. Until that happens, perhaps we can take some direction from what he said last time.

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world’s great religions demand – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother’s keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister’s keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.

For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina - or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.” This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don’t have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit...

It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.

This is what President Obama has called his North Star. I believe that he was telling us that in the midst of all of these heated distractions, we should "keep our eyes on the prize."

1 comment:

  1. O Lord, SP, that was really difficult to watch, but I made myself watch it all the way through!

    I don't want to believe the country is heading there again in some form or other, but there are indeed signs that some are determined to steer the ship in that direction. Actually, the one thing I'd take away from Mr. White's critique is the word 'unintended' in the expression 'unintended consequences of ..West's...attack'. It would be hard to convince me that a purportedly educated and intelligent 'scholar', does not recognize the potential pros and cons of his actions within the context he has chosen to parade them. My concern is whether West will be jarred awake to the possible devastating consequences of his ill-conceived strategy before it/he goes further, and how effectively the President will be able to put out the fire this time (I love the ideas and wisdom revealed in that speech), if the racial-political tone deteriorates. Sigh! I'm going to play ostrich and go in search of a 'lighter' afternoon.