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Charles Blow, playing the race card again, shows how progressives flounder
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BLOWING THE VOTERS AWAY! Charles Blow, playing the race card again, shows how progressives flounder: // link // print // previous // next //

It’s history: We want to express our thanks to those who supported our first-ever fund-raising drive. That said, we hope you’ll go over to our new site and dive into Chapter 1. (Chapter 2 coming soon.)

It’s important history.

All of you who were so nice will be hearing from one of the analysts. Warning! Some may ask if they can live at your home. Find ways to tell them no.

KO does it again: Will Candidate Coakley win tonight? We have no idea. We will say this: We thought the “analyses” by Olbermann and Schultz were weak beyond inept last night (more tomorrow). Olbermann just bellowed insults at Candidate Brown; Schultz managed little better. Finally, he did ask an obvious question, speaking to one of the Bay State’s own:

SCHULTZ (1/18/10): For more, let me bring in MSNBC political analyst Mike Barnicle. Mike, no one probably knows more about this than you do, but I`m curious to your thoughts. Where does the middle class come down in this election? What has Barack Obama done to turn off the middle-class folks when this guy Brown is just out there pushing all the same rhetoric that Dick Cheney and George Bush did for so many years?

Duh. If progressives ever want to build a winning politics, they shouldn’t be waiting until the last night to be asking such obvious questions. They should be interviewing middle-class voters, asking them to explain how they see the world. Instead, we tend to bellow insults at the electorate, telling them they’re a big gang of racists. Then we wonder, at the last minute, why we may be losing a race.

By the way, how did Barnicle answer that question? This isn’t about Obama or his agenda, Barnicle said. Then, he self-contradicted:

BARNICLE: There’s a couple of things you have to understand about Massachusetts when it comes to the president’s agenda, when it comes to health care reform specifically, Ed.

The vast majority of voters in Massachusetts feel that they have no horse to ride in that campaign for health care reform. The vast majority of people in Massachusetts have health care. Massachusetts has pretty much a national health insurance coverage policy at a state level, so they don’t feel that they have a real vested interest in paying for someone else’s health care. Unfortunately, that’s just the way a lot of people feel.

The other aspect of it is health care, to the people in Massachusetts—and I think this goes for many other states, Ed—hasn’t really been explained to the point where people grasp the importance of it. And that’s on the administration. They haven’t explained it. And so what you hear over and over from people in Massachusetts—and I spent two or three days out in the campaign with both candidates—is it comes down to, How much is this going to cost us, meaning individuals and families? That’s what they want to know. That’s what they don’t know.

SCHULTZ: Mike Barnicle, great to have you with us tonight. Thanks so much.

Is Barnicle right? We have no idea—in part, because many high-profile liberal vehicles make no earthly attempt to learn how average voters feel. At these entitles, liberals ignore or insult the public. Then, on Election Eve, they bellow at Candidate Coakley for having done the same thing.

How inept are our liberal vehicles? Here was Olbermann again, speaking to Gene Robinson—and pimping reconciliation. Does this guy have even one clue?

OLBERMANN: The argument that was made against reconciliation, as I understood it, the only one I ever heard that made any sense whatsoever, was you do not want to go back into committees, you do not want to honk off all the committee chairmen or chairwomen in both houses. And yet, the bar for passage in the Senate would suddenly drop dramatically, and you could conceivably pass a more liberal bill.

You mentioned they don’t want to be talking about it. But at least there would be results at the end of the day, as opposed to this fiasco.

Can this possibly be true? According to Olbermann, he has heard only one argument against reconciliation. (Moments earlier, he said that a bill passed under reconciliation “would be a better bill.”) We’ll assume most readers have heard other arguments against the use of reconciliation—that you have to drop certain parts of the bill under the rules of the process; that you will therefore end up with a bill that’s full of holes; that a bill passed under reconciliation expires after five years (click here, see Ornstein). For ourselves, we’re still not sure how this process would work, because neither Olbermann nor the mainstream press have ever bothered explaining it. But we’ve certainly heard other arguments. It keeps sounding like KO has not.

Will Candidate Coakley win tonight? We have no idea. But on the larger scale, why don’t we have a winning progressive politics? More on that question to come.

BLOWING THE VOTERS AWAY [permalink]: The recent flap about Harry Reid just keeps provoking odd reactions. In this morning’s New York Times, Shankar Vedantam pens an intriguing, research-based piece about advantages which accrue to lighter-skinned blacks. According to Vedantam, “positing that black candidates who look ‘less black’ have a leg up,” as Harry Reid did, “is hardly more controversial than saying wealthy people have an advantage in elections.”

We’ll assume that’s sad but true; Vedantam offers intriguing, sometimes maddening, data in support of his thesis. But alas! Before Vedantam could say that Reid’s political analysis was in fact accurate, something possessed him to say the following, right in his opening paragraph. He even dragged in Dr. King:

VEDANTAM (1/19/10): Last week, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, found himself in trouble for that Barack Obama had a political edge over other African-American candidates because he was “light-skinned” and had “no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” Mr. Reid was not expressing sadness but a gleeful opportunism that Americans were still judging one another by the color of their skin, rather than—as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose legacy we commemorated on Monday, dreamed—by the content of their character.

Really? What would make Vedantam say that Reid was expressing “a gleeful opportunism” about this unfortunate matter? We don’t have the slightest idea—and Vedantam didn’t seem to feel the need to explain.

Vedantam is a smart and interesting analyst, unlike many major journalists. But the Reid flap has produced a long string of puzzling, weakly-argued, un-explained judgments. The curse of our gruesome racial history thus reveals itself in this flap. Let’s face it: Cable pundits would have postured and preened about this topic all week. Their serial foolishness was only cut off when Haiti was struck by disaster.

How pundits do love to posture on race! For another example, consider Charles Blow’s underwhelming column in Saturday’s New York Times.

Blow seems like a decent guy whenever we see him on cable. But he’s strongly inclined to play the cards which make it harder, in the long run, for progressives to produce a winning politics. On Saturday, he started with standard pointless insults aimed at the consummate dumbness of Palin, the newest Fox News contributor. Blow gave no examples of the “all manner of nonsense” Palin had apparently “spouted” in her debut sessions on Fox. Then, he moved ahead to a racial analysis which, in our view, was every bit as unimpressive as anything Palin came close to saying in those recent Fox sessions.

It’s hard to know just what Blow was alleging, since he never quite managed to say. But he seemed to be doing what some liberals love—he seemed to be suggesting that white opposition to Obama is, at heart, a racial matter. Blow’s analysis was accompanied by this unhelpful graphic. As often happens, Blow’s assertions don’t seem to match the data shown in the graphic:

BLOW (1/16/10): There is now a bubbling discontent on the right and, in particular, among whites, which is aimed at President Obama.

According to an analysis of New York Times and CBS News polls, Obama has the lowest approval rating among whites at the end of his first year in office than any president in the 30 years that The Times and CBS News have collected such data. And the gap between Obama and the others is significant, ranging from 10 to 36 percentage points.

Furthermore, a Quinnipiac University poll, released on Wednesday, found that most whites think that Obama’s first year as president has been mainly a failure. A plurality of whites even said that Obama has been a worse president than George W. Bush.

If indeed being Negro-lite made Obama palatable to white voters, as Senator Harry Reid was spanked for saying, that charm has worn off. Whites are now fuming at him.

Palin’s chipper visage, baseless certitude, utter obliviousness and unwavering belief in her own destiny make her an ideal vessel for this mounting white discontent. It’s perfect: blind faith meets blinding frustration. For an image of what this looks like, simply recall her rallies from the previous election.

(For the record, according to the Nielsen Company, more than 95 percent of the viewers of the Fox News Channel are white.)

That “analysis” is driven by insinuation, rather than by clear assertion. But Blow’s insinuations seem fairly clear. In Blow’s world, “whites are now fuming at” Obama—and Palin is “an ideal vessel for this mounting white discontent.” We’re asked to recall her rallies from 2008; every liberal will surely know what sorts of recollections we’re thus invited to ponder. At the end, we’re invited to note that the Fox/Palin audience is of course heavily white.

This passage offers a jumble of associations, which seem to convey a familiar idea: White discontent with Obama is apparently built around race. (To see this reflexive race-baiting expressed in letter-to-the-editor form, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/8/10.)

Almost surely, Blow’s insinuations will seem pleasing to many liberals. But Blow’s analysis is remarkably weak, despite the gentleman’s chipper visage and largely baseless certitude. Beyond that, Blow’s analysis helps us see the ways a certain type of pseudo-liberal has always conspired to defeat progressive ends.

Simply put, we’ll never have a winning progressive politics as long as liberals keep yelling race in every possible circumstance.

How dumb is Blow’s “analysis?” We’ll tell you one thing for certain: It’s dumber than anything Palin said in her recent Fox sessions. It’s true: Obama does have “the lowest approval rating among whites at the end of his first year in office,” when compared to the other five presidents encompassed by Blow’s survey. (Two are Democrats, three are Republicans.) Indeed, one gap in approval ratings seems even larger than Blow’s text states; Blow’s graphic seems to show that Obama’s approval rating is more than forty points lower than George W. Bush’s approval rating in January 2002. Of course, Bush was engaged in a glorious war—it had knocked his ratings through the roof—and Obama is mired in the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression. How do Obama’s ratings look when compared to those of other presidents who may have served in somewhat comparable circumstances? Let’s compare his approval rating among whites to that of President Reagan, in January 1982.

In Blow’s graphic, Obama’s approval rating among white seems to be 40 percent. (Blow doesn’t link to any source for his data.) Reagan’s approval rating among whites seems to have been 55 percent in January 1982. Clearly, that’s a major difference. But does it represent a racial distaste for Obama, based on the fact that he’s black?

Sorry. We’d have to say no.

At that point, Reagan’s approval ratings had dropped a good deal from their state at his inauguration. His approval ratings would drop even further in 1982, as his bad economy continued. But any serious comparison here has to encompass a basic fact: White voters have always voted for the Republican during this era, and against the Democrat. White voters have always disfavored the Democratic candidate, whether the Dem was white or black. Just consider the way these two presidents made their way into office.

In 1980, Reagan was elected with 55 percent of the white vote. Carter got 36 percent. (Perhaps because voters thought he was a light-skinned black.) John Anderson, a moderate Republican, drained off eight percent more. Just a guess, but it’s an obvious guess: Reagan would have won at least 60 percent of the white vote in a two-person race.

In 2008, Obama was elected with 43 percent of the white vote; McCain got 55. That was a slightly higher percentage than Obama’s two Democratic predecessors got. (In 2004, Kerry got 41 percent of the white vote; Bush got 58. In 2000, Gore lost the white vote to Bush, 54-42.)

Question: Is Obama’s current approval rating among whites a reflection of a racial dynamic—a reaction to the fact that he’s black? We’re not sure why you’d want to say (or imply) that. Using Blow’s data, Obama got 43 percent of the white vote—and after one year, his approval rating among whites is 40 percent. Reagan got 55 percent of the white vote (with eight more points drained off by Anderson)—and after one year, his approval rating among whites was 55 percent. There’s little difference in these patterns—except for the starting-point in white support.

“Whites are now fuming at Obama?” In fact, whites voted for McCain, just as they voted for Bush. A plurality of whites think Bush did better than Obama? What a shock! Whites voted for Bush (against Kerry and Gore). They voted against Obama.

Obama is serving at an extremely difficult time. For our money, his approval ratings are remarkably high, given the miserable circumstances. (In the new Washington Post poll, his overall approval rating is 53 percent. Reagan’s overall number went well below that as his recession deepened.) We think it’s fairly clear that Obama lost some white votes in 2008 due to racial animus. (If exit polls can be believed, he won remarkably low percentages of white voters in several deep south states.) But why is his current approval rating lower than that of Reagan, who served in a somewhat similar circumstance? In part, because white voters always prefer Republicans. All things being equal, Republican presidents will always score higher among whites. That’s the basic shape of our current politics, although you’d never know it from reading Blow.

Is there really something odd about Obama’s rating among whites? Something requiring a big explanation? Sorry: We’d have to say no.

Dirty little secret: Blow is a very weak analyst. He also loves to imply the race card, like some others on his page. Indeed, many liberals have yelled race race race all through Obama’s campaign and tenure. Sad but true: This seems to be the only political concept some liberals have.

We liberals love to yell about race, even when it makes little sense. (We love to lodge insinuations, rather than make clear claims.) In this way, we make one outcome fairly certain: There will never be a winning progressive politics, anywhere in this land.

Two weeks ago, we noted a letter to the New York Times which played the “racist” card quite freely. Two days later, the same card was being played against Reid. Reid would have been battered by posturing pundits all week—except for suffering Haiti.

Divide and conquer, The Interests say. As long as two tribes yell race at each other, The Interests will always win.

Racial justice is deeply important, of course. But justice moves various ways.

Tomorrow: Our “leaders” love demons