It all resolves to race. Barack Obama’s election did not usher in a post-racial era in national politics. If anything, it has done nothing more than expose the craven racialism which still exists. Barack Obama was elected because of his race. In the words of tort law, Obama’s race was the “but for” causation for his election: “but for” Obama being perceived as black, he would not have been elected. And it will be because of his race that he will likely lose. Racialism is the sword of politics: if you live by it, then you will eventually die by it.
Does anyone seriously doubt that Obama was elected because of his race? There is nothing at all politically remarkable about his resume, except that having a black Kenyan father allowed him to self-identify as a part of America’s black race, while having a white Kansan mother made him seem capable of bridging the racial divide, thereby making him appear less threatening for the white supporters he needed in order to win election. Because anyone with a black ancestor somewhere in their recent lineage (everyone has black ancestors in their distant lineage) can self-identify as black, particularly if they sort of look black, Obama was free to choose black self-identification, while never really having to close the door on the white half of his legacy.
Had he self-identified as white, as he very well could have, he might have been happy to have gained employment as a Harvard law professor and left it at that. Self-identifying as black opened the door to all sorts of political possibilities, not least acceding to the leadership of what is still the most powerful (if totteringly so) political entity in the world.
Why will race, which lifted him to such rarefied heights in 2008, now be his downfall? There are two main reasons. First, blacks who had desperately supported his first candidacy as an expression of long-harbored but never realized dreams have now discovered the cold reality that having a black president necessarily minimizes their relevance, grievances and importance. As was pointed out in a New York Times editorial this weekend, The Price of a Black President is the neglect of black political imperatives. Blacks are to Barack Obama much as Southern Republicans are to Mitt Romney—so reliably supportive that he can ignore them. Both instances illustrate the utterly self-defeating nature of racial politics. Supporting a candidate because he happens to self-identify with your racial subgroup, which is what Obama’s black supporters across the country, and Romney’s white supporters in the South are doing, necessarily means that the candidate’s political imperatives and beliefs are irrelevant, unless it is imagined that the only political imperative or belief that matters is that one’s own racial subgroup is in power rather than another’s.
The reality for blacks as a racial subgroup through which political spoils might flow is that the group does better when it feels no compulsion to support a candidate because of his racial identification as a member of the group. (Bill Clinton may have been the first “black” president, but it was because blacks freely adopted him as one of their own, not because they felt they owed it to him). This mostly unspoken truth is not lost on the leadership of the black subgroup, who give lip service to supporting Obama based on racial identity (a strategy which, incidentally, would never fly for Mitt Romney, or any other non-black candidate, given the racial zeitgeist still prevailing), but know that Obama’s presidency has made traditional black leaders like themselves mainly irrelevant, while at the same time weakening the political strength of the black collective. What this will all boil down to is lower black turnout at the polls. Those blacks who vote will still vote for Obama at a nearly unanimous rate, but fewer will vote, because fewer really want to see him reelected. Conveniently, Obama and the black political establishment will have the nascent voter ID push, which, as their narrative goes, is the racist initiative of white Republicans, to blame for the low black voter turnout which contributes to Obama’s defeat. The Republican push for voter ID laws will help the black political community reconstitute and re-coalesce as a monolithic political force capable of delivering, for a price, roughly 13% of the vote in national elections to whichever politician promises the most political spoils.
The second reason Obama will lose is related to the first. Obama was elected in 2008, in some measure, on the white guilt vote, and there will be no white guilt vote this time around. According to recent polls, Obama is losing the white vote by a much wider margin than in 2008 (he lost the white vote by 12% in 2008, but is now trailing by 23%), and whites (i.e., non-black, non-Hispanic, non-Asians) still comprise over 70% of the voting public. Whites elected Obama last time (the increase in the white vote Obama got over previous Democrats—about 3%–was sufficient to seal the deal in 2008), just as they have elected every single president in the history of the republic. In many respects, whites were motivated to vote for him because he seemed a good vehicle for assuaging guilt over their racist past, possibly even to the extent of moving past racial politics. Their guilt is now assuaged and for many, replaced by anger. Obama took the votes of guilt-ridden whites who hoped for a post-racial future and leveraged it with economic calamity to vastly expand the writ of the federal government, an expansion which they mostly opposed (except for columnists at the NY Times and various others of the self-anointed white intelligentsia who are the real “yellow dog” Democrats). Obama has governed far to the left of the political center in the United States. Without a compelling “overcoming racism” narrative, people simply have no reason to vote against their own political impulses to reelect him. For whites, the overcoming racism narrative vanished upon Obama’s election in 2008.
For a great many, Obama’s election in 2008 really did represent hope and change—the hope that America might move past its inherent political racialism, changing to a new, more rational means of governance. They thought that maybe, just maybe, this son of America, quite unique in his upbringing and ancestry, might be able to move the country past the political divisiveness that threatened to render it ungovernable. Four years later, and the country is as ungovernable today as ever in its history. The accumulation of debt at a rate exceeding a trillion dollars per year for the last five years, with no real plan to change things, stands as compelling proof. Three main racial subgroups vie for dominance, with none capable of exerting its will sufficiently to impose solutions on the rest. Obama still has the support of 80% or so of non-whites, but has fallen to only 37% support among whites. This election, all racial subgroups having abandoned any hope that political racialism might be a thing of the past, will be a competition pitting the old guard of whites (themselves a melted pot of European nationalities who were slaughtering each other in Europe not more than a century ago) against newcomers (Hispanics) and a traditional coalition of blacks and politically dispossessed white intellectuals.
The challenge of governing three diverse and disparate cultures in America screams for an emperor, a chief executive so powerful that he can shut down rancorous debate and decide upon a course, the political verities be damned. Barack Obama might have been that emperor, but has proved not up to the task. It’s doubtful Mitt Romney will be, either. In the meantime, power will accrete to the executive office, just as it has during Obama’s reign (the terrorist “hit list” stands as compelling evidence), mainly because it has nowhere else to go. Eventually some leader will recognize the natural flow of power to the executive, and seize and exploit it to their advantage. It may be opportunistically accomplished as the result of some international crisis, contrived or real, or simply the force of the chief executive’s personality that finally tips the scales.
But it will take someone with near imperial power who is not overly concerned with the next election cycle to tell Americans the hard truth—that it has promised more than it can deliver and that those promises must be scaled back. The hope for change through conventional political means has failed. America will eventually have to jettison her republic to save herself.