RACEWATCH: Blow suspects Hispanics!


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.

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.
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.

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.


  1. I was a Hillary Clinton supporter in 2008. Getting accused of racism for not supporting Teh One didn't exactly fill me with warm fuzzies towards Obama.

  2. Why would you hold it against Obama? A longtime friend had difficulty with my preference for Hillary. I asked if she thought I was racist and she ended the relationship right there, exclaiming it was another reason to hate Hillary. I thought to myself, I'm better off without this friend.


  3. Blow's comments represent a response to mainstream, establishment liberal frustration at the fact that Obama has not got credit for his accomplishments. (Cf. Jonathan Chait.) These mainstream, establishment liberals, many of whom have well-paying jobs and hobnob with wealthy and super-wealthy liberals, who are doing just fine, cannot grasp why people of any background, and not just the Tea Partiers, are unsatisfied with Obama's performance. They cannot grasp that millions of Americans are struggling economically; are facing losing their homes or have lost them; can barely pay for mortgages they have kept, or rent, along with clothes for themselves and their children, utilities, car payments and insurance, gas, etc.; cannot afford to send their children to college; and really don't know what is going to happen. They cannot grasp that these millions of Americans, many of them among the 56 million who voted for Obama, many of them white and latino, but also black and asian american, see him repeatedly siding with big business and the financial industry instead of with them. They seem him caving over and over to the GOP. They did not voted for this. We did not vote for this. WE grasp how bad the GOP is, and will be. But we are disappointed with Obama. It is not racial, not from the liberal side.

    It is not racial, not from the liberal side.

    Seriously. And I personally think Hillary Clinton would have had as much or more problems, and been just as bad, since Obama is following many of the same policies as her husband did and that she espoused, except that Bill Clinton did courageously raise taxes. But under the circumstances of the 2007-9 economic collapse, which has been shown to be have been far worse than earlier thought, had Obama and the Democrats attempted to revert to the Clinton rates, they would probably would be in politically worse shape than they already are, since the GOP would tar them as "tax raisers." It's an awful situation, and yet mainstream, establishment liberals like Blow, Chait, Dowd, O'Donnell, Schultz, Maddow, etc., blithely go on about their nonsense, day in, day out.

  4. Racism has been a central fact of politics for a long time, since issues of slavery became important before the Civil War. There is no doubt whatsoever that the two parties switched their stances on racism (on the whole) and that Republicans now use racism to get support from people all over the country who would otherwise be hostile to the actual economic policies of the party. Democrats' policies are mostly in the interests of blacks and hispanics both with respect to racial and economic matters, so of course they get support.

    The Republican party is systematically racist, just as the southern wing of the Democratic party was systematically racist before the big switch. Is it supposed to be taboo for columnists to hint at this? There was actually surprisingly little race-based attacking of Obama before the 2010 election - I'm not sure why, maybe because there was insufficient time after Obama's nomination to gin up "grass-roots" movements. But since then Fox cable news and other Republican propaganda organs have been making up for it in very thinly-veiled ways. I don't know if these things are "prickly" but it would be very surprising if the increase in race-based anti-Obama propaganda did not have some effect.

  5. I am very careful about which Times articles I click on as I try to preserve my limit for the month. But did Blow bother to find any Hispanics to ask? Finding some in New York wouldn't be that hard. Heck, finding some Hispancis outside New York shouldn't be that hard. I know, it's not fair to base assumptions on discussions with people you talk to, but it might at least hone in him to some problems that might be out there.

    A lot of liberals assume that Hispanics are single issue voters and that talking about immigration in a positive way is all they want to hear about. It wouldn't be surprising if Hispanics found that state of conversation a bit reductive.

  6. Wow - I go away for a few days and look what's happened! Color! A new font! But really, did you think this out? Isn't this a little rash? I mean you were only at the old place for 13 years.

    Mazel tov.

  7. I'm late for the party...

    but part of hispanic dissatisfaction with Obama might have to do with his continuation of Bush's deportation regime.

    Point of fact, Obama has deported folks at a higher rate than Bush ever did.*


    *Obama has continued A LOT of things Evil Bush did in office, but let's not get technical or anything.

  8. You seem to be saying that Obama's approval rating among whites and Hispanics is about where it should be in general, given the current economic conditions, and that his approval rating among blacks is about where it should be, given his blackness(?)

    "Group pride" is a fact of life, but not satisfactory when the difference is something like 50 points. I would expect Obama to be graded on some kind of curve among his group, who might be more likely to feel a sense of empathy towards him. However, lets not forget that the challenges that Obama is facing are hitting this same group hard. Perhaps even disproportionately hard. Alongside group pride, they might have a particularly keen sense of having their hopes disappointed, if not by Obama's accomplishments, at least by what he has appeared to even try to accomplish.

    Some kind of gap is predictable. The current gap suggests something more. It could be racism. It could also just be the flip-side of the empathy that some blacks may feel, with race being a factor, but racial animus playing no role.

  9. I think what Bob is attacking (as usual) is the absence of what you might call an Enlightenment approach to political issues, one that would stress building an argument from facts/evidence and tracing it through valid, logical steps to a supportable conclusion. We can all speculate about what these polling gaps mean. But speculation doesn't get us closer to finding out the truth; more facts, better and more comprehensive surveys, better reasoning, and resisting the impulse to pull something out of your own ass are all part of getting at the truth. Liberals who call themselves part of the reality-based community should respect those values rather than resort too quickly to facile explanations.

  10. I was also a huge Hillary supporter and I spent most the 2008 primary on blogs like this one, defending the Clinton's, particularly the former president, against charges of 'racism,' by other Democrats no less!! It was incredible and it was a perfect example of what Bob Somerby talks about now, we liberals seem to believe EVERYONE is a 'racist', besides us, unless proven otherwise.

  11. In the fall of 1994 Clinton's approval ratings fell to 39%. For the year, his approval ratings where 43% among whites and 73% among blacks. So if we ignore the horrible unemployment and GDP numbers and assume approval is solely based on race, Obama loses 5 points with whites and gains 15 points with blacks in comparison to Clinton at his lowest point. Clinton had lower approval numbers among both blacks and whites than did President Obama at the start of their administrations.

  12. Um, Blow didn't call anybody a racist, much less "everybody." He pointed out data, and asked what it meant. What do you think it means?