At Large : Slander as motivation
Without exhaustive investigation, I'm prepared to believe that some small fraction of American whites would never vote to elect a black man or woman president, or city council president, or president of anything else. I'm also prepared to be persuaded that a similar fraction of American blacks wouldn't pull the lever - or in Chilmark mark a grammar school-size X with a grammar school-size stub of a pencil in the appropriate box - for a white candidate. I think that, in each case, the fractions were larger years ago but that, alas, it is doubtful they will grow much smaller than, say, five or six percent. Also, in each case, I suspect it is true that such fractional Americans as these are beyond repair. Their rearing, their life experiences, their educational deficiencies, and their particular emotional derailments are too indelibly inscribed.
On the bright side, I think it is also true that few members of either of these cohorts will actually be among the 100 million or so who actually cast votes for either Sen. John McCain or Sen. Barack Obama. What will happen, as the polls seem to tell us, is that nearly all blacks who vote will vote for Obama, and whites who vote will split their votes between the two candidates. Also, it seems likely that the majority of voters, no matter their color, will vote for Democrat candidates in congressional and Senate races, probably giving control of Congress to the party of which Obama is the standard bearer.
Now, if one were, as I may be, inclined toward, say, McCain or even Sen. Hillary Clinton, had her candidacy been successful, one might feel wounded by the suggestion, common in many quarters where fervent Obama supporters roam, and even suggested by Obama himself, that those who go to the polls on election day but will not vote for him are inhibited from doing so by latent racist pathologies, indeed that they are racist at the core.
There isn't much evidence to support that view. Indeed, most reasonable arguments seem to run strongly against such a view. For instance, if one assumes, because of the simplest demographic fundamentals, that the vast majority of the 100 million or so who vote in November will be white, it means that Obama will receive a tremendous number of white votes, in addition to the votes from blacks and other ethnic groups. Some of those votes will be racially motivated, at least in part. Some black voters will choose Obama because, they may believe, his nomination by a major political party for the biggest job in the world represents a proud and historic achievement for black Americans. Some white voters will choose Obama for similar, though contrapuntal, reasons, namely to endorse and acclaim the achievement that Obama has made, satisfying themselves that they have eradicated racism's stigma, at least personally. But most of those who vote for Obama will do so because he is a Democrat, as they are, and because his views - on the war, on the economy, on health care, on women's rights, on abortion, on the redistribution of wealth, on global warming, on globalization, and on and on - mirror their own.
On the other side, bearing in mind the assertion above that most Americans who nurse racial hatreds will, like most college students who say they'll vote and even register to do so, but never make it to the polls, I think the McCain voter will make his choice because he or she is a Republican, because he or she believes, for the most part, what the Republican Party stands for (that is, when it is standing for something), and because their favored candidate is a Republican too, a better known quantity, and the fellow with more experience. Had the Republicans put up Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, or Richard Parsons, for example, these voters may have been delighted to pull the Republican lever in November. They may very well have never considered the race question at all, happy as they would be to have found themselves presented with candidates of such accomplishment, over long, distinguished careers.
Some may exalt medical doctors or research scientists, physicists or CEOs, but for me, it's politicians who have the noblest, most difficult work to do. The Founders thought so too, and they contrived a system that would require the very best of ordinary men and women to lead this country to fulfill the goals set out in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. The Founders knew that leaving the resolution of the inevitable conflicts to ordinary folk was risky, so they contrived a system in which the risks were offset, and one which esteemed the need for persuasion and ultimately compromise and agreement. From its beginnings, American politics has been no arena for the faint of heart. It is today what it has always been, a bitterly fought contest of ideas and interests, whose transformation into comity and amiable debate is not likely anytime soon. The Founders would not be surprised, as I say, by what we experience as political give and take today, though they might remind us that slandering the voters one might like to attract is hardly a prescription for election success.