Race and the US Presidential Race

BUENOS AIRES – Three-quarters of Americans now disapprove of President George W. Bush’s performance. Given this, and the fact that the policies and values of John McCain and his vice-presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, are almost identical to those of Bush, you would expect Obama to be leading in the polls by a wider margin than he is. 

The reason that he is not, I suspect, is racism. When polled, most older white voters overwhelming reject Obama, even if many of them are unhappy with Bush. Indeed, one-third of Democrats have at various times told pollsters that they will not vote for a black candidate. And a recent Associated Press/Yahoo News poll suggested that his race is costing Obama six percentage points in the polls.

Most of the time, this racism is covert, only hinted at through code words. The media, particularly the increasingly popular conservative media and talk radio, are particularly important here. Obama is consistently criticized for his “otherness” and his “arrogance,” terms that call to mind the image of the “uppity nigger” from the days of segregation, which are actually not so far in America’s past.

In a recent interview, Bill O’Reilly, the most popular TV talk show host at Fox News, America’s most watched news station, talked down to Obama in so condescending a manner that some viewers were reminded of  the image of a slave owner in an old Hollywood movie putting a young black upstart in his place.