I was watching MSNBC this afternoon when they had their political director Chuck Todd on for a segment. Usually, Mr. Todd provides the standard look at some poll numbers or data. It is pretty straightforward stuff, but today he said something that got me thinking. Todd said that if Barack Obama won in Mississippi by 20 or more points tonight, it would provide evidence that he had made progress with the state’s white voters. There are two possible connotations to his statement. One, that Mississippi is still a racist state where white people won’t vote for a black man, or that Obama is the black candidate, and as such isn’t very appealing to most white people.
I highly doubt that Todd was trying to offend the state of Mississippi, so it is pretty safe to conclude that he was talking about Obama. Democratic voters rejected the idea of Barack Obama as the “black candidate” when Bill Clinton floated it in South Carolina, but many pundits seem to have embraced the idea that Obama is a candidate that can only win where there are large pockets of African American voters. (Apparently, Iowa didn’t count). The question is why it is ok for Barack Obama to be considered the candidate of African Americans, but nobody refers to Hillary Clinton as the candidate of older white women? Each candidate has a natural constituency, but only Obama has been labeled and limited by his popularity with that group of voters.
The linguist George Lakoff has written two books on the use of language and political framing. One of his main points is that a debate between two parties is won once one side accepts the terminology of the other as fact. Although the Clintons attempt to frame Obama as the black candidate has been consistently rejected by voters, perhaps it succeeded with their other target audience, the media. The media seems to be buying into the idea that Obama’s success should be measured by his appeal to white voters.
Barack Obama will win Mississippi by a fairly large margin tonight, but some could choose to devalue his victory because in their view he didn’t get enough white votes. I’m sorry, but I didn’t realize that there were different categories of votes based on a person’s race. I foolishly was under the assumption that a vote was a vote, and that they all counted equally. I am tired of the politics of division. For too long we have allowed politicians in both parties distract us based on what makes us different. What about the values that we share as a nation? I do not see Clinton and Obama as white and black. They are candidates, and as such neither one of them deserve to be devalued on the basis of race or gender.