2008 Presidential Election, Race and Racism
Professor Vernellia Randall
Speaking Truth to Power!

Using the Race Issue to Carve Up the Electorate


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Ruben Navarrette
Tulsa World
Washington Post Writers Group
January 31, 2008


Having polarized blacks and whites, the Democratic primary campaign was already becoming sleazy. And now that Latinos have been added to the mix, it's become surreal.

We're being told that Latinos won't vote for Barack Obama because he's black. The implication is that Latinos are racist.

Sergio Bendixen, a Latino who conducts polls for Hillary Clinton, suggested during an interview with Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker that "the Hispanic voter -- and I want to say this very carefully -- has not shown a lot of willingness to support black candidates."

John B. Judis, writing in The New Republic, insisted that Latino voters could be a firewall for Hillary Clinton in part because of "a legacy of an older Latin American prejudice against blacks that has been transplanted to this country."

And, in The New York Times, Adam Nagourney and Jennifer Steinhauer cited "a history of often uneasy and competitive relations between blacks and Hispanics, particularly as they have jockeyed for influence in cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and New York."

Nagourney and Steinhauer neglected to mention that each of those cities have, in the past, elected black mayors who captured the majority of the Latino vote.

It's true that in most polls, Hillary Clinton has a 2-1 advantage with Latino voters over Barack Obama.

But does the Eastern media really expect us to buy the idea that the 44 million people who make up America's largest minority have a beef with African-Americans? Does that include the Latinos who backed Obama in his campaigns in Illinois, and those who now support his presidential campaign? If anything, Latinos -- especially those whose families have been in this country for generations -- tend to have a keen understanding of racism, which makes them more likely to identify with the plight of African-Americans.

Next thing you know, pun dits are going to tell us that Latinos are too macho to elect a woman president.

There are plenty of reasons why Latinos might support Hillary Clinton. Her husband won two national elections in which he earned more than 60 percent of the Latino vote. She has racked up scores of endorsements from prominent Latino officials, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and former Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros.

Not that there isn't racism in this election. That's the surreal part. There certainly is. But none of it involves Latinos. Rather, it's the kind that has been the most prevalent in U.S. history -- whites versus blacks.

Things got really nasty in South Carolina, where former President Bill Clinton dealt a whole deck of race cards before -- and even after -- the vote. And yet Obama cruised to victory with more than 80 percent of black support and nearly a quarter of the white vote.

This despite the ex-president's despicable efforts to scare off Obama's white supporters by trying to define the Illinois senator solely by race. Bill Clinton tried to portray Obama as someone who draws his support almost exclusively from African-Americans and speculated that South Carolinians would vote along racial lines. After the votes were cast, he took one last shot by comparing Obama's victory to those enjoyed in South Carolina by Jesse Jackson during his 1984 and 1988 presidential bids.

Hurricane Bill couldn't have done more damage to his wife's campaign if he had tried. Wait. Maybe he did. Maybe the plan was to write off South Carolina, knowing that black voters would turn out overwhelmingly for Obama. Then Hillary comes off as a victim of identity politics, and white and Latino voters become more sympathetic to her in future primaries.

The Clintons could be counting on Latino voters to make up the votes they're losing from African-Americans.

In 1968, Richard Nixon embraced a Southern strategy that used the race issue to carve up the electorate and scare up support from white voters. Republicans turned to the strategy time and again until the South was largely in their hands.

Well, with Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and California all holding primaries or caucuses next week, this could be the Clintons' Southwestern strategy -- an elaborate racial bank shot that is just as divisive and unsavory as its predecessor.


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