Speaking of conservative-minded people who are planning to vote Obama, Ben Smith and I were chatting yesterday about his recent and fascinating piece “Racists for Obama?” over at Politico. Here’s a taste:

“What you see is it’s perfectly possible to hold a negative view of at least one aspect of African-Americans and yet simultaneously prefer Obama,” said Charles Franklin, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Racial feelings are not as cut and dried — not as black and white — as people often say.”

Franklin explored those contradictions in a large, national survey taken in mid-September, when the Illinois Democratic senator’s rival, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), led in many polls and the nation’s economic woes had not yet produced a deep crisis. The poll asked voters whether they agreed with the statement that “African-Americans often use race as an excuse to justify wrongdoing.” About a fifth of white voters said they “strongly agreed.” Yet among those who agreed, 23 percent said they’d be supporting Obama.


“If you go to a white neighborhood in the suburbs and ask them, ‘How would you feel about a large black man kicking your door in,’ they would say, ‘That doesn’t sound good to me,’” said Democratic political consultant Paul Begala. “But if you say, ‘Your house is on fire, and the firefighter happens to be black,’ it’s a different situation.”

“The house is on fire, and one guy seems like he’s calm and confident and in charge, and that’s the only option,” he said.

Any black person will tell you that the experience of racism is complex. There are people who are racist in theory but in practice, for example might love their black neighbors next door and have them over for barbeque. Or you have those people who say “I’m not racist, but I wouldn’t want my daughter marrying a nigger.” It can cut both ways. As a kid growing up, I was told by relatives: “Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you’re ‘different’. You’re the same as any other African-American given the same opportunities – smart and hard-working.”

The Racist for Obama vote is going to convince themselves that Obama is different from the fried chicken eating, welfare and food stamp using, drug dealing people they’ve seen on The Wire whereas the McCain campaign seems hell-bent on trying to convince them of the opposite. My hope is that Barack Obama will convince all Americans that Americans of African descent are smart and hard-working and tax-paying and patriotic generally speaking. That he isn’t different. That he represents millions of people who look just like him who are as eager to contribute to a strong, safe, prosperous America as any other American in our great nation. That the dreams we share in common as an American people far outweigh any differences in skin tone or ethnic background among us.

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