What’s Wrong with Voting for Obama Because He’s Black?
A popular refrain in politics today is that most Black people (who vote) will vote for Barack Obama because he’s Black. It’s been talked about with condescension from the right, with people like Allen West and Herman Cain claiming that Blacks are “slaves” to the Democratic Party and to voting in blocs for Black candidates, and with echoes in instances like Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” comments. And it’s something that has been defended, with what I believe is equal condescension, by the left and particularly by Black pundits and journalists. Even to them, voting for Obama because of the Obama’s race is merely an act made justifiable by Whites who vote for Romney because of anti-Black reasons or because of offenses against Blacks in the past.
The arguments go as follows. To many Conservatives, Blacks voting for Blacks is indicative of a herd mentality by those who are too unintelligent to understand or too lazy to attempt to understand how Conservative policies would help them (a laughably thin premise). Blacks would rather vote for inferior Black candidates than “qualified” White ones, a spin on the old anti-affirmative action argument. A funny point here that this almost never happens with Black Conservative candidates, which kind-of discredits the entire notion, or at least indicates that party-line considerations still have primacy with Blacks, as they do for most Americans. This Conservative argument was first created in the throes of Reconstruction, when districts in the South, which suddenly had Black majorities, elected several Black congressmen (there were two consecutive Black senators from Mississippi during Reconstruction, and there have only been six, total). Blacks were first re-disenfranchised and then the rhetoric was created to discredit the ideals behind the consolidated Black vote. And that’s how things have been since. On the Liberal side, even to those who defend Blacks voting for Black candidates, it’s not an act which is prima facie acceptable or noble, but one simply made “defensible” as a reaction in lieu of actually voting on policy issues (which Blacks certainly don’t do en masse, right?). Implicit in arguments that Blacks voting for Blacks is only acceptable given historical context or racism, is the argument that most Blacks who do so still don’t have a firm grip on policy, and have subordinated their real self-interests and understanding of civics to race-based groupthink.
I guess given my tone, you can figure that I disagree with both arguments. I believe that voting for President Obama, as well as any other minority political candidate, on account of his/her race is an informed policy decision that is equally as legitimate as voting on the “issues.” Same goes for women who vote for women politicians. In any given election, save for extreme gimmick politicians like Tea Party congressmen, an individual’s platform is less a collection of ironclad policy stances than a loose collection of ideas that will probably be either swallowed up outright or shifted towards the center in the political process. Simply put, our political system is built to maintain the status quo for as long as possible until the status quo is untenable. Presidential policies are usually indicative of majority opinion and are hammered out post-public opinion debate, rather than fundamental positions, which shape these debates (save a few game-changing policies). The center is maintained, and despite the social views of the presidents of the last 20-30 years or so, things have often negatively impacted minority communities, which inspires the type of apathy and frustration with the “system” seen in many young Black thought-leaders (I’ll come back to this tomorrow). Often times, platform promises, especially to minorities, can be outright lies. I’m not saying that no president has cared about “us,” and there have certainly been politicians that have done great good for us (anyone who believes Obama hasn’t is blind to policy), but by simple virtue of being a “minority,” our political will and relevance is limited in the face of the majority-driven political juggernaut that spans both sides of the center.
So in a world where we know well that the full inertia of the Black vote has led to somewhat limited policy gains, why shouldn’t race be a valid deciding factor? I remember after the ’08 election being excited about the fact that I could tell my little siblings and cousins that they could be president and that this was a reachable goal. There are a bunch of little Black boys, who are told everyday what they can’t do, who see a shining reminder of all the things that they can do. There are children born as scions of dysfunction who get to see an example of a first family just like them who are making it work and serving as a role model for the country. Why aren’t these considerations just as important as which candidate will turn whichever system into a voucher? A vote on the policies is usually a vote on financial well-being, but voting for Obama because of the reasons stated above can give hope (excuse the cliché) to the next generation to rise above the ills of society. I’d say that’s important too. I think it’s applicable along both sides of the aisle, and perhaps the political system would be well-served by a group of serious young minority minds who reside on both the left and the right because they grew up idolizing serious politicians that look like them in both parties (if you can’t tell….I don’t think many of the token Black politicians on the right are very serious at all). Also, when you can be certain that very few politicians in either camp “care” about the racial issues beyond what swings the vote their way, wouldn’t you be better off voting and hoping that empathy gets you some returns? I know races aren’t monoliths, and that each individual has a set of issues that should matter to them, but given the Hobson’s choices we often have in politics, isn’t it nice to have something to hope for while both parties battle to a rather predictable stalemate every year?