The Corner

The Unease of Election ’08

A friend sent me a piece at Slate.com, and it is really quite explicit: “If Obama Loses,” is the title. And the subtitle: “Racism is the only reason McCain might beat him.” And explicit is good in this case, as it so often is. (To see the piece, go here.)

You might call what has been done here “laying the groundwork” — preparing for an Obama loss. If the worst should happen, and McCain wins, there will be only one explanation: racism. Everyone — at least every McCain voter — will have to wear a scarlet “R.” And so will the country at large.

Think, for a moment, about what this assertion does to black Americans. It says to them, along with everyone else, “If Obama loses, it won’t be because Americans again prefer a right-leaning Republican to a left-leaning Democrat. It will be because of the sin of racism — it will be because whites are anti-black.”

Is that a good belief to instill? Is it true? Will the age-old practice of grievance-stoking ever end? (No, of course not.)

Like many others, I long thought that the first black president would be a conservative Republican, and same with the first woman president. That may not be the case. But if the black nominee this year were the Republican, rather than the Democratic, I think the country would have an easier ride. The liberal media would feel free to detest the Republican nominee, just as they would any other Republican nominee.

There would be no question of “a test for America” or “making history”: The nominee would be just another Republican who needed to be defeated, like Lynn Swann, Michael Steele, or Ken Blackwell.

I’ve said it many times before: When Doug Wilder ran for governor of Virginia, everyone said, for months, “He would be the first black governor since Reconstruction.” It was also asserted, constantly, that the election was a test of Virginians’ racial maturity. But earlier, the Republicans had a black nominee in my home state, Michigan — his name was Bill Lucas. No one said he would be the first black governor since Reconstruction. No one talked about the racial maturity of Michigan voters. Lucas was just another conservative politician who needed to be defeated.

And he was, by a garden-variety white liberal (Jim Blanchard).

This is an old, old story — and it is a hopelessly American one. Some have suggested that there will be riots if Obama loses. I have doubts about that. But the explanation for an Obama loss has been readied, well in advance: and, to me, it fills this election with an unease that most elections don’t have.

I don’t envy John McCain. I don’t envy the Democrats, either. All Americans are in an awkward position, as the appearance of that Slate article demonstrates. The day will come when we can be individuals, or Americans — conservatives, liberals, heroes, louses. The day will come when the curse of race is lifted. But apparently that day will have to wait. (“How long, Lord?!” went the cry, for generations.)

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