The need to call everyone racist: Do you enjoy seeing glasses half full? As of this morning, so does Charles Blow. In his New York Times column, Blow gives this account of Obama’s term to date:
BLOW (9/10/11): Obama has a list of accomplishments as long as your arm. But a less-than-masterly use of the bully pulpit has allowed both opponents and supposed allies to minimize them. A very vocal part of the progressive base has painted many of his successes as capitulations, while many on the far right have painted them as a threat to the security and solvency of the republic. That’s the problem with lingering too long in the middle: you take fire from both sides.On balance, we’re much less critical of Obama’s performance than some folk are. We know he inherited an economic disaster. We don’t think it’s clear that he could have gotten a better health bill. That said, Blow’s glowing description may be on its way to the Glass Half Full Hall of Fame.
A bit of good cheer doesn’t matter that much. More significantly, we were struck by the unfortunate place Blow’s piece ended up.
Blow thinks Obama has done great things. For that reason, he is suspicious when the president’s job approval rating falls among whites and Hispanics. We definitely wouldn’t call Blow the bad name behind which he hides in the following passage. But this passage comes close to displaying a form of political illness:
BLOW (continuing directly): And then there is the prickly racial question that we dare not raise lest the raiser him or herself be called a race baiter: can the president win back enough of the white and Hispanic support? A Gallup report issued this week found that the president’s approval rating among both whites and Hispanics had dropped to the lowest point of his presidency. Since he was elected, his approval rating among whites has dropped by 43 percent and by 36 percent among Hispanics, but it has dropped nearly 9 percent among blacks.Blow always seems like a sane, decent person to us. Let’s agree that he is not a “race-baiter.” But alas! The need to call everyone a racist has broken a bit of new ground here.
There is no way to fully understand this racial movement, but there is no denying that it exists. Maybe some blacks are stubbornly sticking with him, in part for racial reasons. Maybe some whites and Hispanics are drifting away from him, in part for the same reasons. Who knows? But the dramatic difference points to something that exists beneath the surface and beyond policy.
Obama’s approval rating remains extremely high among blacks, as Blow almost notes. (He never tells you how high that number is.) At the same time, Obama’s rating has dropped a great deal among both whites and Hispanics. Even here, Blow uses a somewhat unusual metric; this makes the drop-off seem a bit larger. (Among Hispanics, Obama’s approval has dropped from 75 percent at inauguration to 48 percent today. That is a drop of 27 points—or 36 percent.)
For all Gallup numbers, click here.
For the record, Obama’s race hasn’t changed since inauguration, when those approvals were higher. And approval ratings are always sky-high when a president starts his first term. But when Blow sees Obama’s numbers dropping, he can’t help thinking that a “prickly racial question” may be involved, among both whites and Hispanics.
We think that is amazingly foolish, on the substance and on the politics.
Blow does imagine the possibility that the outlier here is the high rating which still obtains among blacks. “Maybe some blacks are stubbornly sticking with him, in part for racial reasons,” Blow says. Indeed, the president’s approval rating among blacks still stands at 84 percent. As everyone knows, that is amazingly high for a president serving during such awful times.
African-Americans are always the most Democratic voting bloc, of course. Beyond that, it would hardly be surprising if blacks are especially inclined to stand behind the first black president. As the late Tim Russert once described in some detail, Irish Catholics were thrilled by the election of Jack Kennedy, the first Irish Catholic president. When Americans exhibit this type of group pride, it’s the expected norm.
That said, there’s nothing especially odd or surprising about Obama’s ratings among whites and Hispanics. His job approval stands at only 33 percent among whites; that is not a good number. But in Bill Clinton’s second and third years in office (1994 and 1995), his job approval among whites stood at 43 and 44 percent on average. (During bad months it went lower.) He was serving at a time of peace and prosperity, not during an extended economic disaster. And Fox News didn't exist!
Blow says he shouldn’t be called a race-baiter. That is fine with us, but the need to call everybody racist is dumb—and self-defeating. This morning, Blow throws Hispanics into the stew, thus extending the pre-existing circle of denigration.
There’s nothing especially strange about those ratings among whites and Hispanics. On the substance, we think Blow’s remarks are very unwise. But here’s what will happen on the politics if this sort of thing persists:
The GOP will take Blow’s words and go to work in the Hispanic community. “Just look what The Liberals are saying about you,” they will sweetly propound.
Do you think they won’t do that? Is the moon made of green cheese?
Might we repeat a few basic points? Given the economic times, there’s nothing odd about the president’s ratings among whites and Hispanics. There’s nothing odd about their decline from inaugural day.
But there is something odd about the need to call everybody a racist. That said, it’s a bit of a pseudo-liberal sickness. We liberals love calling other folk racist. It seems like our one known idea.