The upcoming presidential election will pit against each other two contenders who differ vastly in their philosophies and temperaments. During the lengthy presidential campaign season, the world has had ample time and opportunity to observe the message, organizational skill, judgement, rhetorical tenor and demeanor of each candidate. At the end of that process Barack Obama has clearly emerged as the superior leader compared to the cranky and erratic John McCain. That realization is reflected in the widespread support and endorsements that Obama has garnered nationwide. Even the Anchorage Daily News, the home town paper of Sarah Palin, has put its trust in Obama's leadership. However, despite the favorable opinions and polls, an Obama win is not guaranteed. The outcome of the election is still uncertain. One of the principal reasons for the uncertainty is believed to be Obama's skin color.
Almost immediately upon returning home from my trip to India, I heard the depressing news that a couple of skinheads in Tennessee have been arrested for plotting to assassinate Barack Obama. The news is scary but hardly surprising. Skinheads and neo-Nazis represent the extreme racist fringes of American society and are violently opposed to accepting blacks and other minorities in positions of power. But pundits say that there may also be a substantial number of non-violent, peaceful white/ Asian/ Latino voters who even if they mostly agree with Obama, may end up not voting for him because they are uncomfortable with the notion of a black American president. I am not sure how widespread this "hidden" racist mentality may be.
People vote for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes their choice hinges upon viscerally personal likes and dislikes of persons and policies and at other times, pragmatism trumps dogma. Recently Anna wrote a post about Confederate flag flying, pick-up truck driving, socially conservative, working class white supporters of Obama - an unexpected phenomenon as conventional electoral wisdom goes. The following story, if true, is further proof that a person could vote for a black president without shedding his racist point of view.
Last week, Julie Hensley made one of her thousands of phone calls on behalf of Barack Obama. A woman answered. As Hensley ran through her short script, the husband impatiently broke in.
"Ma'am, we're voting for the n***er." And hung up.
Repentant Bush supporter Andrew Sullivan is deliriously happy at the prospect of a possible Obama presidency which he believes will end identity politics in America. I think his optimism is premature in this regard. People are good at compartmentalizing opposing public and personal views and not recognizing their own hypocrisies. Those of us who grew up in countries where rigid identity politics (religion, caste, gender) is the norm, know that sometimes voters can indeed eschew prejudice in politics without revising broader cultural attitudes. Just because a male chauvinist votes for a female head of state or a casteist elects a candidate from a lower caste, doesn't mean the end of other personal predilections. Think Indira Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto and the status of the majority of women in India and Pakistan. In these turbulent times, out of self interest, a white racist may very well vote for a black candidate who appears to be more competent than his opponent. But that doesn't necessarily mean that the US is going to be transformed into a cheerful Rainbow Coalition if Senator Obama becomes president. In any case, we don't for sure know who will be the winner next Tuesday. We have to wait and see if Obama will become the victim of the Bradley effect or the beneficiary of the pragmatist racist vote.