Amidst worries over the ramifications of a dismal economic record that has hurt minorities, and aware that only overwhelming African-American super-majorities can save certain states in the next election, Obama has a new video out appealing directly to African-Americans to vote for him on the basis of shared heritage. The strategy may have always been implicit, but I cannot quite remember a president or presidential candidate explicitly trying to rally a constituency on the basis of shared racial identity — except for Obama’s earlier appeals to Latinos to “punish our enemies” and his 2010 midterm video targeting specific special minority groups to get out and vote.
The problem with all this is simple. The more the president encourages particular racial and ethnic groups to vote along us vs. them fault lines to benefit his candidacy, the more the logical antithesis arises. If it is okay for a Latino to vote for Obama on the basis that he is supposed to entertain a shared antipathy for “our enemies” who apparently are not racial minorities, and if it is fine to overtly appeal to African-Americans to show racial solidarity at the polls, then are we all to do that? That is, are all Americans to play the Obama card and vote for and against candidates, including Obama himself, explicitly on the basis of how much they resemble ourselves?
And it gets even stranger, given the recent Obama rhetoric about his political enemies wanting to factor in what “people look like” — that is, he says Republicans are erecting barriers to advancement on the basis of race. In Obama’s version of Oceania, his enemies care about what people look like, and therefore that wrong thinking must be opposed by right thinking on the basis of what people look like. And these appeals come on the heels of Eric Holder’s outrageous charges of racism against congressional overseers and Michelle Obama’s unfortunate and baseless charge that some consider her “an angry black woman.” President Obama can dress all of this up in hope-and-change rhetoric, in Nobel Laureate utopianism, in postmodern multiculturalism, but what you are left with in the end is the president of the United States crassly appealing to a reactionary racialism, one that can only prove counterproductive and will leave increased racial tensions as his legacy.