Race-baiting is an ugly art. But a struggling candidate is often tempted to practice the dark arts. We’re doomed to see a lot of those dark arts between here and November.
Barack Obama and his friends in the mainstream media, so called, can’t believe that anyone could vote against someone as wonderful as he is (and as they are). Only a bigot would vote against such a wonderful president. We’re getting a scary preview of the wrath to come in the reaction to this week’s presidential primary results in Arkansas and Kentucky.
No one has ever suggested that “as Arkansas goes, so goes the nation,” but you might think the 42 percent of the Arkansas primary vote that Mr. Obama didn’t get has rocked the foundations of the republic. That 42 percent in Arkansas is similar — indeed, almost identical — to the vote against Mr. Obama in Kentucky and earlier in West Virginia. Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist, says it’s the result of “race, resentment and fear.” The Klan is coming! The Klan is coming! With tar, feathers and rope.
The anybody-but-Obama voters had a real-live alternative in Arkansas in the person of a Tennessee lawyer named John Wolfe. He actually carried nearly half of the state’s 75 counties. Unhappy Kentuckians settled for an apparition named “Uncommitted.” Earlier in West Virginia the anybody-but-Obama candidate was a convicted felon in a federal pokey in Texas. So it must be about race when voters prefer a lawyer to a man of color. It’s an article of Democratic faith that such bigots have to be Republicans, despite the inconvenient fact that so far the only voters who have voted against the president are Democrats.
Sixteen states have offered Democratic voters an alternative to Mr. Obama, either an actual candidate, “Uncommitted,” or an opportunity to write in someone’s name. So far 15 percent of those Democratic voters have done so. In five states where there has been an actual opponent, 27 percent voted against the president. In New Hampshire, 1 Democrat in 10 wrote in an alternative. Twenty percent of North Carolina Democrats voted for “Uncommitted.” That’s a lot of “bigots.”
Tuesday’s vote against Mr. Obama is actually a protest against the party’s further slide to the left. Not so long ago Arkansas was the most loyal Democratic state, having never voted Republican. Then came the likes of George McGovern, Michael Dukakis and John Kerry, white men all. Loyal Democrats swallowed hard, voted Republican, and waited for Grandpa to climb out of his grave, dusting off his Confederate uniform and looking for a hickory switch. But silence reigned in the graveyards, and old-line Democrats continued to swallow hard and vote Republican.
Some Democrats understand this. “It’s just that [some] voters are down on national Democrats generally,” Martin Frost, a former Texas congressman, tells The Washington Post, “and I don’t believe it’s due to race.”
The Chattanooga lawyer who won the 42 percent in Arkansas with no mention of race goes Tuesday to Texas and another primary. He’s likely to get enough votes to inflict further heartburn at the White House. Unless you’re an FDR or a Ronald Reagan this is what unpopular incumbent president, black or white, can expect. Lyndon B. Johnson was driven out of his bid for re-election in 1968 when Gene McCarthy won 42 percent of the vote in the New Hampshire primary.
No one doubts that a candidate’s race influences voters, probably more so in the South than elsewhere. But not always. Mr. Obama got his strongest Arkansas endorsement in Little Rock, where the 101st Airborne Division was dispatched by a Republican president to enforce desegregation a half-century ago. In several Little Rock precincts where poor whites and blacks can’t afford to live, Mr. Obama won margins of 90 percent or more. One newspaper columnist called these precincts “a warm liberal echo chamber against the increasingly cold world in much of the rest of Arkansas.” John Wolfe polled his majorities ranging to 75 percent in largely rural counties.
The most pronounced “race-based” voting, in fact, was in predominantly black precincts. One such precinct voted 100 percent for Mr. Obama; percentages in the high 90s were commonplace in black neighborhoods across the state.
Maybe these voters just can’t vote for someone of another race. Or maybe they’re just taking pride in helping a black man do well. Maybe the white vote against Mr. Obama isn’t about race, but reflects rage against an incompetent president who promised to change the old ways and now reveals himself to be just another pol with a Harvard degree and a hustler’s scheme to divide and conquer with the race card. We’ve heard this sad song before.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.