Sunday, October 26, 2008

An Irrational Preoccupation

In the column I write for the Dallas Morning News I focus, for the most part, on the southern part of the city. It is an area that is somewhat diverse, economically underdeveloped and has attracted a great deal of attention over the years because its development is critical to the expansion of the Dallas' tax base. This rather unremarkable local challenge (big cities all over the country are faced with the same issue) has macro implications related to issues of economics, public education, racial attitudes, poverty and political change.

So this past week's column had to do with the importance of the vote to southern Dallas. It is an obvious concern given, the historic nature of the presidential campaign. Although Obama is won't win Texas, an energized electorate is critical to the future development of this city's region.

I thought this was pretty inarguable on its face.

But I two readers obviously saw things differently.

Check out the replies:

"Dear. Mr. Britt, with almost 100% of black voters voting for Obama, I don't know if your help is needed in this area. I do know that there is certainly a racist issue in this election which is not politically correct to talk about but what is the most frightening about your piece is the fact that you believe that Obama via the government can
give black people an education, income and other vital needs in life without having to work for them. That is a scary idea but this entitlement and victimization mentality is alive and well among too many black leaders. One seldom hear from black leaders
anything about self reliance, personal responsibility, hard work and other traits that made this country great."

"Dear Rev. Britt:

If I understand your article in today's paper, you, a black preacher, calls attention to the voters of South Dallas, a predominantly black community, to get out and vote. You continue your article by sprinkling it with the names of various black
civil rights leaders. As a man of God, surely you wouldn't be asking your flock to vote on someone based strictly on is color and not his qualifications, now would you?"


Now leaving aside the fact that I have absolutely no idea how these two got this from the column that I wrote, it confirms an interesting preoccupation with the black vote.

What makes anyone think that Obama can get elected on the strength of the black vote, alone?! And why is it so frightening or objectionable that African-Americans would vote for a candidate with whom they could identify? Hispanics do that. Whites have done that for a long time. And while, in previous elections, the numbers of African-American voters has never reached its potential, blacks have never, en masse, sat out an election. Heck, 22% of black people even supported George Wallace for president.

Were it a matter of simply wanting a black president, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Alan Keyes and Shirley Chisolm are among the highest profile politicians who have offered themselves for the highest office in the land. At some point their inability to garner near total support from the African-American electorate, and a broad enough base of support from a more diverse constituency rendered them all symbolic or niche candidates.

No, if Obama wins, it won't be because he gets 'almost 100%' of the black vote or because blacks vote for someone 'strictly because of his color'. Believe it or not, there are blacks who will not be voting for him.

I've probably worn out this reminder, but its important: most blacks weren't on board with Obama's candidacy, UNTIL, they saw that white people would vote for him in Iowa! Barak Obama is the Democratic candidate because more than 18,000,000 of his fellow citizens and the majority of qualified delegates in the Democratic Party determined that he was qualified to represent him.

His campaign raised $150,000,000 in September. Those were not all black donors.

According to the polls (for those who believe in them), 44% of registered white voters say that they will vote for Obama. Registered Hispanic voters, who have largely been ignored in polling data reports so far, are said to be abandoning the Republican Party in droves, will make a significant number of those who vote for him. Marginally reported are the numbers of Republicans who will jump ship this election to vote for the Democratic nominee.

So, no, blacks support, while significant won't by itself make Barak Obama or any other candidate president of the United States. I'm afraid it still takes someone with appeal across all sorts of demographic lines to make that happen.

We'll see which candidate is successful at that pretty soon.


Anonymous said...

Are you, Rev. Britt -- the prodigal

Janet said...

I have to disagree with your first dissenter's response. I attend a large, predominantly African-American congregation. Most of the messages preached are sprinkled with personal responsibility talk--more so than I ever heard at the White churches I grew up in.