Eternal Vigilance Breeds Ennui
Originally posted on DelphiForums on 20 September 2008 1:14 pm EST; reposted here at my invitation and request. -- GH
If you were deaf, dumb & blind and from another planet, you might not have noticed that Barack Obama is the first African-American major candidate for President. Otherwise, you know. Therefore, all the discussions and endless analyses during the primaries and general election of the impact of race, while unfortunate, have been relevant.
The conventional wisdom has been that, despite the senile stumbling and malicious lying of McCain, too many voters, no matter what they tell the pollsters, will be overcome by racism when they go into the voting booth. Many Americans don't make their final decisions on whom to vote for until late September or October. Therefore, until recently, I've somewhat tolerated the whining of the practitioners of conventional wisdom & defeatism who genuinely felt Obama couldn't win because of racism. Some polls from early to mid-September showing McCain with a slight lead over Obama only added fuel to the fire of racial fatalism.
It now seems that the wringing of hands and the gnashing of teeth has been for naught. Barack Obama has survived and, as of September 18th, according to the conservative pro-McCain Gallup national daily tracking poll, holds a 5-point lead over McCain. Further, according to a Marist College poll released on September 18th, in the critical battleground State of Ohio, Obama leads McCain by a margin of 47% to 45%. Like all polls, this poll only surveys registered voters who have landline phones and does not survey any of the humongous numbers of newly registered voters, most of them pro-Obama. Most polls are probably underestimating the support for Obama.
An overlooked feature of this Marist poll [and other polls bearing similar results] is that 90% of Democrats are supporting Obama. This is significant because it indicates that the defection of Democrats, based presumably on race, is at most only 10%. Further extrapolation indicates that 90% of the voters who won't vote for Obama because of race are Republicans or right-leaning independents.
Though racism has hardly disappeared, a less dramatic but equally profound phenomenon has occurred. Despite the attacks on Obama and the vicious smears claiming he's a secret Muslim terrorist, an elitist, a Marxist radical, a black separatist, etc..., he's no longer seen as such except by the most deranged. The attack ads by the McCain campaign are starting to resemble water off a duck's back. After a while, most people get tired of being frightened, especially when the alleged threat is a nice middle-aged man who's behaved like a perfect gentleman for as far back as anyone can remember. Most people have even gotten tired of being frightened by the specter of bin Laden, a person even the Ku Klux Klan would concede is nowhere near as nice as Barack Obama.
Unnoticed during the media noise and lies but now beginning to emerge, voters are feeling a sense of comfort and familiarity with Obama. Even if they hold otherwise racist views, they no longer see Obama as someone who subscribes to different values than they themselves hold. You can tell them that Obama will eat their babies, but they won't take you seriously. Obama is now familiar and Obama is obviously too rational to fit into the attempted Republican/conservative narrative with any credibility.
Further, the crumbling economy has probably ignited the defense mechanism of isolation [or compartmentalization] in lots of people who might have previously been suspicious of Obama. This psychological defense mechanism, for example, is the one that enables mainstream Christians to be perfectly rational most of the time, but also able to accept supernatural beliefs on Sunday mornings only. Likewise, during the long era of segregation, this same psychological defense mechanism enabled southern white bigots to make exceptions for African-American maids and nannies. Via compartmentalization, they were able to believe that, although African-Americans were inherently stupid and untrustworthy, they could entrust their lives and their children's lives to their African-American maid or their African-American nanny.
Vast numbers of people have lost their investments, their houses and their jobs or are approaching losing them. An intelligent, rational candidate of the Democratic Party who happens to be black is offering a rescue operation. I submit that nearly everyone except the hard core bigots have decided that that African-American can be trusted. I further submit that most of the time the most unintelligent human being, if in the process of drowning, would reach out to whomever was offering a helping hand.
To those who wish to insist racial prejudice is part of human nature, I insist that survival is the highest priority of human nature.