Predictable as rain, the race card has surfaced just in time to stir up electoral passions, justify outcomes and explain away inconvenient truths.
Just days from Election Day, the zeitgeist belched up one of its least attractive – and least defensible – memes. (Was it the weather?) Pre-emptive theories, in no particular order, include: Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama because they are both black (according to Romney surrogate John Sununu); if Obama loses Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, all of which voted for him in 2008, the old Confederacy will be restored (Daily Beast commentator Andrew Sullivan); Americans still harbor racial bias even if they don’t know it (recent online poll, Associated Press).
Anyone reading headlines related to the poll might infer that white Americans are biased against black Americans. Extrapolating, given the current election season, it follows that if some voters prefer Romney, it is because Obama is African-American.
But a review of the poll reveals something not quite so definitive or sinister. Overall, the findings suggest that most Americans are moderate, fair-minded and for the most part don’t see things one way or the other based on race.
Some of the questions themselves, on the other hand, were unnecessarily provocative and biased. That is, their design was based on an assumption of racial bias.
For example, participants in the AP online poll were asked whether they agree or disagree with the following statements: “Irish, Italians, Jewish, and other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without special favors.”
What kind of question is this? Who doesn’t believe that everyone should work his or her way up? The underlying assumption is blatantly racist, implying as it does that blacks don’t work and do expect special favors.
It is heartening that the majority, perhaps perceiving the trap, neither strongly agreed nor disagreed.
Another statement read: “It’s really a matter of some people just not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder, they could just be as well off as whites.”
Why not just ask people when they stopped beating their children?
The lengthy poll posed similar questions about other races and ethnicities. I selected these two because they were among the most egregiously biased and were most pertinent to the current election. It should be noted that most of those polled expressed a preference for Obama to win on Nov. 6, even though the figures have dipped somewhat since 2010, when the AP polling began.
Oh, and most identified themselves as white Christian Democrats (though not necessarily born-again) and most were from the South. So much for the racist-Republican Confederacy, which never dies in the eyes of some political commentators. Sullivan, declaring a Cold Civil War, found “fascinating” the reconstitution of the Confederate states should Romney win the three previously mentioned. But the obvious implication, Sullivan’s protests notwithstanding, is that people who vote for Romney in those states are necessarily racist.
What else could he have meant by mentioning the Confederacy in the context of a black incumbent president being rejected by three Southern states that previously embraced him? Operative words: “previously embraced him.”
What happened? Did all those people who voted for Obama in 2008 suddenly become racist? Or have they lost confidence in Obama four years later? Obama had a 70 percent approval rating early in his administration. Did all those people suddenly become racist?
We are not a nation naive enough to think race plays no part in our perceptions and responses. And where there are humans, there will be racists. But this nation also elected an African-American as its president. By an overwhelming majority, Americans like him and wanted him to succeed.
If Obama loses, it will be his own undoing.
Meanwhile, no one questions why 95 percent of blacks support the president. Is it racial? Or is it simply that most African-Americans happen to be Democrats?
Sununu implied the former, hinting that Powell chose Obama out of racial loyalty. I wish Sununu hadn’t gone there. Had Powell endorsed Romney, he’d be a GOP hero, just as he now is to Democrats who have managed to overlook his convincing support for the weapons of mass destruction hypothesis in Iraq.
So it goes. But even the netherworld of politics should have standards. To preemptively label people racist for favoring a candidate who happens to be white, and otherwise advancing a narrative that will create only racial animus should Obama lose, is implicitly biased, unfair and a breach of good faith. Stop it.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for The Washington Post and lives part-time in South Carolina.