Columnists > Voices

Don't blame racism

Campaign 2008 | Obama's recent setbacks are of his own making

Issue: "Return of the Lion," May 17, 2008

You're beginning to hear it now-and I predict the accusatory chant will pick up in volume between now and the gathering of the Democratic National Convention in Denver in late August. It will sound like thunder by Nov. 4.

The charge will be that we are a racist nation after all, and that when finally presented with a golden opportunity to elect an attractive minority candidate, we are likely to flunk the test. So shame, shame! Just to avoid such embarrassment, get on the bandwagon and demonstrate your tolerant spirit!

The problem with such an analysis, though, is that it stands reality on its head. The America I see, both through my own observation and through the often-twisted media, is an America that would dearly love to elect its first minority president-if only the first credible minority candidate for that office would demonstrate enough integrity to deserve election.

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I agree with Dick Morris, political consultant to former President Bill Clinton, who told some of us at a luncheon a few days ago what a boon it might be for America if little children from minority families everywhere could see on the walls of their homes pictures of Barack Obama as the first minority president, and respond by saying: "I could do that some day!" And I agree with Morris when he envisions little children and teenagers in other nations around the world making room, right beside the pictures they have of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., for a new American hero. What a boost for our whole beleaguered effort at good foreign relations.

To be sure, that's only part of such a picture. Positive as that scenario might be, I also agree with Dick Morris that the price of achieving such happy consequences would be an Obama agenda that would be unacceptably costly, both in terms of dollars and policy.

But the point remains that there are millions of U.S. voters (maybe even tens of millions) who would genuinely welcome the opportunity to elect their first minority president-if only such a candidate would demonstrate, with integrity, a zeal for establishing a balanced, even administration that would represent all Americans.

It isn't some suddenly racist streak in America that has slowed down the Obama express in recent weeks. It is instead a radicalism of his own making-a lifetime of radicalism he has almost been and may yet be successful in concealing from the American voters.

It's the very bipartisan National Journal that says flat out that Barack Obama is the most liberal of all 100 members of the U.S. Senate. In 2005, his first year in the Senate, Obama was ranked as 16th most liberal. In 2006, he was 10th. Last year, he earned first place! (Hillary Clinton, incidentally, during the same stretch, moved from 20th to 32nd to 16th "most liberal.")

You will peruse Obama's record in the Senate, keeping in mind his rhetoric about "bringing people together," and discover not a single piece of legislation that comes even close to doing that. His policy record tends more toward dividing than uniting. And the deeper we've come into the primary season, the more vivid have been the lines of demarcation.

Not for a minute am I saying that white racism is a thing of the past in our nation. I've witnessed its reality up close in recent months-including an unusual church discipline case. I know better than I like how ugly racism can be.

I am saying that racism isn't what's to blame for the recent bumps in Barack Obama's road. Ironically, it may have been the voters' zeal to demonstrate that they have left racism behind that has let them ignore what would otherwise be an unacceptable expression of extremism by a major candidate.

If you have a question or comment for Joel Belz, send it to

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.


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