Say It Ain’t So

March 11, 2008 8:06 p.m.

We just got an email from a longtime and prized reader, TPM Reader JS. And JS said that Ferraro’s statement was simply a fact. And whatever outrage people feel, she says, people shouldn’t be forced to shut up or stand down when they’re simply saying things that are true, even if they’re uncomfortable truths.

Now, I’m really not much for the sport of competitive outrage that’s flying over all of our heads of late. So I’m just going to set aside whether the comment is offensive or outrageous. Let’s just consider whether it’s accurate.

Can anyone seriously claim that it’s an asset to be an African-American in a US presidential race? Happily what we’re now seeing is that it does not in itself seem to be an eliminating factor in a presidential race. But an advantage? There’s no doubt that Obama’s race is the central factor in allowing him to consolidate almost unanimous support from African-American voters, especially in the South. But African-Americans make up only about 13% of the population. And does anyone doubt that that advantage he gains there is not balanced at least to a substantial degree by resistance to voting for him among white voters? Why is Obama running so poorly among white voters tonight (compared to his rates in northern states) in Mississippi? And in South Carolina? We hear a lot about Sen. Clinton’s bedrock of strength among non-college educated white voters. Do we really think that’s simply a matter of appeal of Sen. Clinton? More speculatively, but I think no less true, is that a lot of the Farrakhan/Muslim/foreign influence stuff has more sticking power because of Obama’s race.

Most of the same points could be made about the advantages and disadvantages Sen. Clinton is under because of her gender. In fact I think there’s a pretty striking symmetry. It’s clearly helping her with her big advantage among women voters, especially her generational peers. But we’d be foolish not to realize that some of Obama’s big margins among white men are not simply a reflection of support for Obama.

You might support Obama or not, think he’s qualified or an empty suit but suggesting he’s only where he is now because he’s black is something much worse than outrageous. It just seems obviously false.

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