Why Republicans Like Barack Obama

One of the more interesting things I've heard about the current Presidential race is that Barack Obama is the most popular Democrat among Republicans.

One could attribute this to the simple fact that so many Republicans despise Hillary Clinton, but this was a stat bandied about by pundits back when there were something like 37 Democrats still in the race. At first, I found it to be a mild curiosity. But when my 92-year-old Irish Catholic grandmother (who doesn't care much for politics but generally votes the pro-life ticket) told me last Saturday that she likes Obama, I knew something wild was happening.

Could it be that America has suddenly become color blind? Mmmm... no.

Could it be that Obama is so inspirational as a public speaker that he truly does transcend party and race? Mmmm... maybe.

Could be that all you need to do is say the words "Ronald Reagan" as a Democrat, and 33 percent of Republicans will move to your side? Mmmm... sort of.

Could it be that Wall Street Republicans instantly trust a candidate who made Harvard Law Review, and who has chosen a University of Chicago economist as a key advisor? That might appeal to the George Will set, but let's face it, they're fairly small.

I think it's different. And yes, race has a lot to do with it.

* * *

There are only two intellectual frameworks from which we white folk can healthily look at race in America:

1. Instead of the accusatory "Am I a racist?" question, take the issue inside and honestly ask yourself how you think and act differently around and about black people. Then, when you acknowledge that every time a friend tells you a story about being mugged, inconvenienced or panhandled, you immediately ask, "Was he black?", instead of concluding that you're a racist, you can simply try to figure out what perception you're trying to validate by asking that question.

2. Just acknowledge that everybody's a racist. This can actually be a good place to start, because it's true. The only problem is that it results in what I call The Crash Effect (in reference to the overrated movie of a few years ago), the end product of which is to rub a salve on the collective white consciousness that I find a tad too anesthetic. ("Sure, there was that slavery thing and all, but hey, my Honduran hedge trimmer hates ME, too!")

These two frames are never used. When it comes to talking race with well-educated white conservatives, one of two things usually happens: They shut down and change the subject, or they roll their eyes and make some sarcastic air-quotey comment about "well, I guess I'm a racist then..." as if swatting an Al Sharpton fly that isn't in the room.

Why do they do this? You could blame the usual media suspects who play the race card as if it were the only one in the deck. But that group is painfully small when measured against this weighty defensiveness. I don't know the answer to my own question, so...

* * *

Back to Barack.

I'll admit that I was one of those downtrodden Democrats who almost leapt off the couch when Obama delivered a keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention that even conservatives like David Brooks acknowledge will go down as one of the great feats of oratory in American history. I liked Joe Biden and Bill Richardson better in the Presidential race, but I prefer Obama in the reduced field because I trust his intellect, and I think he has the ambition and ego necessary to want (and do) the job of President of the United States, tempered by enough humility so as not to be dangerous.

Mostly, I trust him as our Chief Bartending Officer to never, ever fix the toxic cocktail of arrogance and ignorance that our current President has been schlepping for the past seven years.

But why do so many Republicans like Obama? I think it's this: They voted for W. (the first time) because he was the candidate they'd rather have a beer with. They like Obama because they know that if they ever went outside the bar to have a smoke with him, he wouldn't call them a racist.


Mike said…
Great post, Conk. Got to meet Edwards last night prior to his carpenter's union rally and there was no indication (at that point) the field would narrow in a mere 12 hours. All eyes on next Tuesday, no doubt.
Aunt Christy said…
Obama is half-white and acts half (if not more) white. Makes a difference in perception.

I don't ask "was he black?" when someone gets mugged. I do want to know what he looked like. It's more about completing an image or story in my mind than wanting to confirm a racist stereotype.

A friend of mine recently rode the subway with a woman who yelled at a fellow (male) passenger "If you don't move that umbrella, I'm gonna shove it up your ass!" I asked what race she was (again, wanting to picture the scene and hear the accent) and he was a little shocked in that guilty white way. Oh please.

NYC is great for breaking down these barriers. A white woman on my volleyball team has an Indian boyfriend. When his family comes to nyc, they stay in their one-bedroom apartment with them. A guy on the team commented "It's always that way with the Brown People--they just love to stay with family." He's half Puerto Rican.

I just realized that's all kind of apropos of nothing. Sorry!
Steve the Liberal said…
A brilliant insightful post - but I hesitate to assign such complexity to the Republican mind. I think it all boils down to this:

Why Republicans 'Like' Barack Obama?

He's Not Hillary.
Kevin Sawyer said…
As a Republican, I would prefer Hillary by a large margin over Obama.

Obama has given every indication that he will be Jimmy Carter on steroids. Idealistic and naive (though, contrary to popular belief, not articulate in the slightest), but with enough charisma and sass to carry his incompetence into a second term, he is the one candidate in this election who might personally result in our death.

And did you catch the debate tonight? How much makeup can fit on that man's chiseled face? He looked like a mannequin at the Brookdale Macy's. He'd better "hope" most Dems don't have hi-def.

Oh, and congratulations on the lateral promotion from Acronym Communications to abject unemployment. 16 months too late I say. You were always their Pony Boy. Think gold.

We should Guinness sometime very soon. See how I used that as a verb? Isn't that just so, so precious? Seriously, though, name a time?


Marc Conklin said…
There's a gathering next Thursday at the Loon for all people laid off or left. Are you game for that, or something else? I'm good either way... got nothing but too much time and too little money. How's the new PR job? I have to hear you explain why you think Obama is inarticulate. The only way I can understand that comment is if you define "inarticulate" as "unable to express Kevin Sawyer's beliefs." (emoticon)
Kevin Sawyer said…
The Loon? Bold choice. I'm game. Time?
Marc Conklin said…
The ASI festivities will probably start around 5, so maybe 4?

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