In today's New York Times, we are treated to the umpteenth article about the so-called "Bradley effect": The possibility that some voters are telling pollsters that they plan to vote for Obama, but who really won't because of racial prejudice.
This particular article, by Adam Nagourney and entitled "In Voting Booth, Race May Play a Bigger Role," is a good example of just how much some reporters and editors are stretching to keep the race story alive (I blogged yesterday about a blatant attempt by CNN to actually stir up racism by inviting watchers to email about why they wouldn't vote for a Black man.)
The Nagourney article does not actually cite any statistics, studies, or other data to back up its contention that race may play a role in the election. Instead, the article quotes three individuals involved in electoral politics on various sides of the issue. That makes this particular piece a made-up job, based on no new facts nor even new insights. (The same can be said for several other articles on the same theme in today's Times, all of which mostly deal with overt rather than covert racism; the paper runs a large photo of a southern racist who, referring to Obama's mixed heritage, cites the Bible against creating "other breeds.")
But I was particularly struck by a quote in Nagourney's piece from Harold Ickes, who was a senior advisor to Hillary Clinton during the primary campaign:
“If he were white, this would be a blowout,” Mr. Ickes said. “I think the country has come a long, long, long way since the 1960s. I think everybody would agree with that. But if you talk to people in certain states, they will say there are impulses that do not benefit Barack Obama because of the color of his skin.”
I don't deny that some people won't vote for Obama because he is Black, and many of them say so openly--thus disqualifying them, by definition, as part of the Bradley effect, which refers to those whose alleged racism is hidden rather than overt. But is it true that if Obama were white this would be a "blowout"? I don't think so, and here I would like to indulge in some brief speculations of my own (note that I am clearly labeling them as speculations, which articles like Nagourney's fail to do.)
First of all, the latest poll numbers (ie the new CBS/New York Times poll) give Obama a 14 point lead over McCain, and Obama is leading by statistically significant margins in most of the swing states. If that is not already a blowout, I don't know what is. Second, I would argue that Obama is doing as well as he is not despite his being Black, but because of it. To put it more precisely, Obama is winning because of who he is. Can anyone name a Democratic Party politician who has Obama's charisma, his life experiences, his eloquence and passion, even his intelligence? Although I disagree with Obama on a number of political issues, and have said so repeatedly on this blog, there is no one on the political scene who comes close to matching Obama's appeal. Where does that appeal come from?
If anyone has not read Obama's book, "Dreams From My Father," they should do so--or rather, they should listen to Obama read it on CD, even if that version is abridged, or download the Audible version. Doing so will make clear the complex family background and life experiences that make Obama who he is, and also make clear that magically changing the color of Obama's skin would not make him more "electable." It would make him less so, because it necessarily would give him a different life than the one he has had.
So here is my little bit of punditry about race and the "Bradley effect": I think that Americans are going to elect Barack Obama president by a resounding margin not despite the fact that he is Black, but because of it. They will vote for him because he has a dramatically different story than that of the politicians they have voted for in the past, a story that resonates with authenticity and purpose. They will vote for him because they know by doing so they are bringing out the best in America rather than the worst; they will vote for him because of the thrill that it will bring them to thumb their noses at 400 years of history and show that they are not bound by its shackles; they will do so because they know that the whole world is watching and that billions of people on this planet will be proud of what they do on November 4.
Let's call it the Obama effect.
More on the Obama effect and "blackness." From "reg," a regular blogger on Marc Cooper's site, in response to my post above--a very eloquent and insightful analysis I would urge you to read.
Economy trumps race? So reports Truthdig's Bill Boyarsky from Ohio, in a very interesting piece.
The end of demographics? Slate examines the outdated use of demographic categories to predict voter behavior, using women as the example.
Update (October 18): The Hillary effect (and it's not helping McCain.)