Ethnic politics have always been a facet of American politics. But recently the frightened Obama reelection campaign seems to be going to unusual lengths to appeal overtly to voters by virtue of Obama’s race — a sort of retrograde tribalism that Obama in 2004 promised that we would transcend.
What are we to make of the coach of the Chicago Bears, Lovie Smith, announcing on a campaign video, “I have the president’s back and it’s left up to us, as African Americans, to show that we have his back. Also join African Americans for President Obama today.” Does Coach Smith mean that “as African Americans” one has a duty to support the president by virtue of his race rather than his politics alone, or his politics as they relate to the welfare of African Americans? Are those African Americans who oppose Obama, then, doing so “not as African Americans”? Are whites and Hispanics who support Obama doing so because he is also half-white or as “not African Americans”?
And is the coach of the Chicago Bears now starting a precedent that the coaches of all NFL teams shall endorse particular political candidates (e.g., “I have Senator X’s back and it’s left up to us, as (fill in the blanks: white, Latino, Asian) — Americans, to show that we have his back.”), in hopes that their own races and team loyalties will sway voters? If so, Lovie Smith should read Procopius on the Nika riots and the volatile intersection between sport, faction, and politics.
These sorts of Byzantine blue vs. green tribal loyalties become creepy when our president is encouraging well known Americans to state them so overtly. And, of course, it is only a matter of time now when some will, in counter fashion, publicly state that they are voting against Obama as a matter of racial politics in the way that others are voting for him on that very basis — or perhaps because they also don’t like the Chicago Bears.
Again, the Obama-Smith strategy is a suicidal path for any multiracial society that has hopes of transcending tribalism.