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I once asked a student what percent of the American population did he think was Black. "At least sixty percent!" He said eagerly.
"Are there any other guesses?" I asked the class. How was I going to talk this young man down?
In fact, 77 percent of voters in the Bush-Kerry-Nader election were white. It is the most obvious reason why the election turned out the way it did.
For white voters and their pundits, however, the stupidity of the election would be experienced as an expectation of politics as usual. "Of course, it’s a stupid election," they would tell you. "Aren’t all elections stupid?" OK. But every great stupidity has its personality. And not enough folks are talking about the personality of the white vote in the wake of this most recent election.
In fact, the stupidity of American elections to date has been heavily imprinted with the specific personality of white America. Imagine, for instance, any other race of a candidate acting as stupidly as George Bush, performing as poorly, and yet–among white voters–being so well liked.
But if you live in white America, George Bush’s stupidity is the very form of mind necessary and sufficient to constitute political power. That’s why white folks in America could serve up a majority for Bush, unlike Black, Latino, and Asian voters–who would not have re-elected him.
And if I’m wrong about this, why else do you think the South was considered untouchable all year long? The solid South is not solid without a big, fat, white vote. So among elites who claim their latitude to bypass the American South, it sounds like a far better idea to work around this problem. Pressures are enormous to find some other thing to talk about. Take responsibility for transforming the white vote and do it in the South, too? Do you have any idea what you’re talking about?
Only Howard Dean was willing to talk about the Confederate Flag waving white voters down in Dixie. Dean is occasionally discredited on that account (for example, see Chait’s column in today’s LA Times [Nov. 26]). Now that we are four years away from the next Presidential election (Lord willing and the creek don’t rise) it is not yet too late in the election cycle to raise the question–what are we going to do about the white vote? No white Democrat without an answer is smart enough to lead.
"But white voters will dominate the electoral process for decades," reports Aurelio Rojas in a preview of the California vote. There, Kerry wins 47 percent of the white vote compared to Bush’s 51. In New York, Kerry gets 49 to Bush’s 50. Compare the margins of the Kerry losses among white voters in those progressive states to Texas, where Bush got 74 percent–of the white vote. In none of these states (nor in Illinois for that matter) do white voters favor Kerry, but in the blue states a significant bloc of white voters present themselves to the Democratic Party.
A Massachusetts liberal is such a dangerous spectre to raise among white voters (who are not Massachusetts liberals) because white voters in Massachusetts behave differently. They actually gave a majority to Kerry.
Tom Hayden in a recent essay encourages anti-war activists to "become more grounded in the everyday political life of their districts, organizing anti-war coalitions including clergy, labor and inner city representatives to knock loudly on congressional doors." But I wonder if this outreach to "inner city representatives" doesn’t hide the political problem that anti-war activists actually have, that is, convincing white voters to favor less belligerent politics.
Perhaps Hayden means to say that anti-war activists should get more grounded in their existing political base. The Congressional Black Caucus, for example, does very well on the war issue already. The CBC and the NAACP were two groups who early on expressed "strong opposition to war" (writes the Associated Press in 2002, archived at NathanielTurner.com). So if it were up to "inner city representatives" there would be no need for an anti-war movement in the first place. And if it were up to black voters, Bush would never have been elected.
So, yes, it was a stupid American election, and many of us did stupid things along the way. Let’s not be so stupid again as to quit working on the transformation of the white vote–especially in the South–until we’ve made Massachusetts liberals of them all.
Back to my student. Obviously, he was an urban youth. For him, sixty percent of life was Black life. And God bless him for not imagining things any differently. I can still recall, after hearing several guesses from the class, that I looked back at him and gave him Perlo’s numbers on percent Black in the USA. It was a cruel moment for the same reason that the election was cruel. And white folks who scoff at Massachusetts liberals should think about the eagerness that falls out of a person’s eyes when he realizes there’s no getting around white folks in the USA.
GREG MOSES writes for the Texas Civil Rights Review. Moses contributed a chapter on civil rights under Clinton and Bush for Dime’s Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org