Thursday, November 06, 2008

Post-Racial America?

Here's a column from the LA Times by Shelby Steele that I think gets to the heart of the argument that erupted on this blog yesterday. While some celebrate Obama's presidency as a great cultural victory that represents some kind of new, post-racial America, race was clearly an important factor in the election.

Obama's ideas are nothing new, yet he is being hailed as a great visionary who will not just change government, but America. As Steele notes:
On the level of public policy, he was quite unremarkable. His economics were the redistributive axioms of old-fashioned Keynesianism; his social thought was recycled Great Society. But all this policy boilerplate was freshened up -- given an air of 'change' -- by the dreamy post-racial and post-ideological kitsch he dressed it in.

Race indeed explains much of Obama's attractiveness to the electorate. For whites, supporting Obama presented a way to escape the stigma of racism. For blacks, the stigma of feeling somehow inferior:
When whites -- especially today's younger generation -- proudly support Obama for his post-racialism, they unwittingly embrace race as their primary motivation. They think and act racially, not post-racially. The point is that a post-racial society is a bargainer's ploy: It seduces whites with a vision of their racial innocence precisely to coerce them into acting out of a racial motivation. A real post-racialist could not be bargained with and would not care about displaying or documenting his racial innocence. Such a person would evaluate Obama politically rather than culturally.

A truly post-racial voter would support a candidate based solely on his or her character and positions on the issues. A post-racial America did not go to the polls on Tuesday.


Rudi said...

This author said it way better than I obviously could... but this was my exact point.

Kyle Hommes said...

I for one supported Obama because of his policies. The fact that he was an African-American was just icing on the cake. I don't by the whole race thing in this. There were plenty of Americans that voted for McCain because he was white. I don't see the difference between that and voting for Obama because He is black. Besides exit polls showed that the Age of the Candidates was a bigger factor than race (40% to 18%, ABC News). Americans did not vote for Obama because he is black they voted for him because they realize that the Republican policies don't work, and I hope that the Democratic victories serve as an impetus for change in the Republican party because I believe they are out of touch with America, as evidenced by the conservative article linked to this post. It wasn't about a post-racism America it was bout a post-Bush and post-Republican America

Jon Vander Plas said...

I didn't mean to imply that race was the only reason people voted for Obama. Many people would vote for a ham sandwich (or Al Franken) if it won the Democratic primary (same for many Republicans).

Which Republican policies don't work?

The point of the column was that we are not in a post-racial America and that race was very much a part of this election. A post-racial America would not see being African-American as "icing on the cake." Obama offered a false bargain that many accepted: You're not a racist if you vote for Obama but if you don't, maybe you are.

I also hope this election changes the Republican party. We need to contrast liberalism with conservatism. Free markets, low taxes, limited government, personal responsibility, individual liberty, a strong national defense and traditional values. McCain did not represent many of these principles.
Bobby Jindal in 2012!

Tom and Stacia said...

Hi Jon,
I have two questions this morning . . .
1) Who is trying to say it's a post-racial America? I personally believe America is still very racialized especially when it comes to education, neighborhoods, churches, prison population, etc.

2) I've been thinking a lot the past few days about one of your comments from a previous post -- "I can defend every conservative position from a Christian perspective."

To me this is at the heart of the matter for Christians, which is why I don't belong to one of the political parties. I find things in both parties incongruent with my faith and with Scripture. So, I'm genuinely interested to hear you expand on this.


Kyle Hommes said...

I don't think we are in a post-racial America, nor do i think Obama was promising that. For the most part he left race out of the campaign. As far as the icing on the cake comment, I was just trying to say that his race did not factor in to my decision. However, I appreciated the fact that he is African-American, and the message his presidency sends to minorities in this country, which I believe to be that minorities can achieve their dreams. I did not at any time personally perceive a message from the campaign that if someone did not vote for Obama they are a racist, although I do think that sentiment was shared by some if not many throughout the country. I do not believe it to be true, however. I do think that there were white people who voted for McCain simply because they would not vote for a Black person, but I don't think they were a very large group.

I do think it is unfair to call someone a racist simply because they did not vote for Obama. I also think it is unfair to say that he was elected because he tricked voters into thinking they would be racist if they didn't vote for him, or that he would usher in a post-racial America. He was elected because he was the better candidate.

As far as Republican policies that don't work, I don't think there is a need for me to list them because you will not agree with me. I will just say that I don't believe the ways that Republicans approach the economy (Trickle-Down Economics), foreign policy (The Bush Doctrine), or Social Programs (Health Care, etc.) are effective. I am sure that you do, though. I also do not think the Republicans lost this election because the swung to much to the left, but your comment seems to imply that. I think they lost the election because this country does not want conservatism right now. I do think that conservatism will make a comeback again, and I think it is a necessary force in our politics, but right now it seems that the country is moving to the left. I think McCain moved to the left to try to win the election because that is where the country is at right now, I don't think the Republicans lost because they became too leftist or centrist.

Bobby said...

I agree that we are not in a post-racial america and I haven't really heard that idea thrown around. I don't think celebrating a black president and what that represents necessitates thinking that we are in a post-racial country.

Personally, your argument sounds way oversimplified and a bit of a poor excuse for the election results. To play the "white guilt" card sounds especially desperate (and overused by right-wingers).

As far as being able to defend every republican policy from a christian perspective. I think this is exactly the type of argument that Boyd makes an argument against in "myth of a christian nation". No man-made government can completely represent the Kingdom of God. As he said, the easiest way to get followers of Jesus to put down the cross is to hand them a sword.

Jon Vander Plas said...

A lot to respond to, thanks for all the comments. This post was not meant to be an explanation for Obama's victory, there are clearly many: the economy, unpopularity of Bush, Obama's $600 million, media bias, a well run campaign by Obama, McCain's unpopularity with the Republican base, I could go on and on.

It was meant to clarify Rudi's point during the heated discussion the other day. I felt this little community was not understanding each other on this issue. No we are not a post-racial nation, and Obama is not a post-racial candidate, but he was presented as one.

To Stacia and Bobby's point, I will elaborate in a later post, but I meant that I can defend conservative policies from a Christian perspective, not that a Christian perspective requires conservatism. Abortion is an essential plank for liberals and I believe that aspect of liberalism is indefensible from a Christian perspective.

To Kyle's point, wouldn't you agree that Obama gained a lot from tacking to the right? He promised tax cuts for 95% of Americans and toned down his rhetoric on removing troops from Iraq. I would argue that moderates are not sold on either ideology and respond to the best sales pitch. Reagan's pitch was better than Carter's. Obama's was far better than McCain's. It doesn't mean people have embraced liberalism - look at Prop 8 in California for example.