I was listening to WBEZ- FM, Chicago's public radio station, this morning driving to work on the day before the presidential election. The show Morning Edition included a panel discussion of their political experts, Cokie Roberts, Mara Liasson. They were opining on the next 24 hours of campaigning between President Obama and Mitt Romney and reviewing some of the trends that could sway the election one way or the other.
Cokie Roberts was pointing out where Mitt Romney's strengths lie as the campaign entered its last day. She said that Romney is "doing particularly well with married white men who didn't get a college education" and there are quite a few of them in the battleground states, she added. She also said that President Obama is "losing white voters by much bigger numbers than in 2008." It's nice to know that your racial, marital and educational status is now used to measure a presidential election. With my college education, I wonder where I am trending.
I assume that Ms. Roberts' statistics are accurate and that her trends are based on data that was well-researched. What I will also assume is that having a black president for the past four years has not made us, as a nation, more tolerant of each other and less inclined to base so many things on race. I thought it would; I thought it could, but I don't think it has.
The discussion of the election, has unfortunately turned into a political pundit's version of race in America. For anyone who says that race doesn't matter in this election, clearly that is not the case. I remain amazed that Barack Obama was even elected in 2008, a day that seems far longer ago than four years. I am amazed because of the number of times I have been called an "N-lover" since then while walking down a street in Chicago, Obama's hometown, with my African-American wife. I am amazed because of the conduct of white high school students who live on the south side of Chicago, as recently as this past weekend, who called my stepson the N-word and chose to post their thoughts on Facebook. I am amazed by a co-worker's recent use of the term "wetback" to describe to me the recent job performance of an Hispanic colleague.
Even President Obama himself seems to have given up on the idea of confronting race in this country. According to Clarence Page's column in the November 4, 2012 Chicago Tribune, Hidden Side of Obama's Race Gap, "Obama talked less about race in his first two years in office than any Democratic president since 1961." Not exactly a battle cry for tolerance and our common goals as a people. But, maybe he just decided, "What's the point?"
About a month ago, as the election grew closer and people grew more polarized, I was talking over beer and wine to a black friend of mine who voted for Obama in 2008, but has not been as enthusiastic about him this time around. So I asked him what he would do if the Democrat in this race was a white man or even Hillary Clinton with similar policy positions, experience, and viewpoints as the current president and the Republican was black, in fact a black Mitt Romney - with all the same policies, background, ideas and characteristics as the current white Mitt Romney, who would you vote for?
After five seconds and a sip he said, "If Romney were black, I'd vote for him." It is often said not to judge someone unless you've walked in their shoes. I don't judge. I have opinions - we all do, and we all make decisions based on the information we are given or that we choose or choose not to rely upon. So, instead of getting outraged by this statement or responding back about how Romney's policies are not favorable to minorities or the poor, I kept quiet, changed the subject and drank my beer. It is just so interesting how people think.
Based on the current punditry, the first black, African-American, non-white, call him whatever you want, President of the United States has a pretty good shot, as of the day before the election, to repeat. Things may change, but I'm betting against it.