How President Obama Took Race off the Table — Again

Earl Ofari Hutchinson: Author and political analyst – Posted: 11/12/2012 12:29 pm


Much has been made that defeated GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney got more white votes than any other presidential candidate since George H.W. Bush’s presidential win in 1988. But the reason he did can’t be chalked up simplistically to racial fear, dislike and disgust with President Obama. An untold number of white Romney voters chose him based on party loyalty, political alliance, voting tradition, and a sincere belief that government is too big, intrusive, and costly.

There is more. An estimated eight to 10 million registered white voters did not vote. The reasons they stayed at home are as varied as the voters themselves. The one probable thread that runs through their non-voting is that Romney simply was not appealing enough to them to bother to go to the polls. This further underscored a point reiterated countless times in the aftermath of the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections and that’s that a white presidential candidate can’t win the White House based on race alone.

Obama insured that. In his victory acknowledgement speech on Election Night at the McCormick Center in Chicago he made a perfunctory reference to ethnicity when he ticked off the groups that were instrumental in his victory as well as the fast-changing voter demographics of the country. His paint of the country in the broadest tapestry has been signature and carefully calibrated from the moment that as a first term U.S. Senator he announced was a presidential candidate in 2007.

In his 20-minute-plus speech he used the word “race” exactly one time. He did not use it as a direct racial reference. He used it to make the point that people could come together across all lines for change. In nearly every speech between his candidacy announcement that year and his reelection victory speech, racial references have been virtually non-existent. Obama did his political homework well on this. When he announced he was a candidate in 2007, the air was filled with endless speculation that race, either covert or blatant, would be a potential stumbling block to his candidacy. Countless surveys and polls consistently showed that many whites harbored negative racial biases and views about African Americans. On Election Day in 2008, there was the concern that many whites who told pollsters that they would vote for Obama were hedging or flat out lying out of fear of being branded a racist. Another worry was that the GOP with its long history of skilled use of sneaky code words, terms, and language to inflame many whites against blacks and minorities would do the same again. This would sow suspicion, mistrust, and antipathy against a black candidate and translate into a racial backlash on Election Day.