Sunday, May 25, 2008

NEWSWEEK Cover: Obama, Race And Us

25 May 2008 16:10 Africa/Lagos

NEWSWEEK Cover: Obama, Race And Us

Despite Decades of Progress, Race Is Still an Issue for Many White Americans as Well as Some Democrats

Newsweek Poll Shows Misconceptions About Obama May Be a Hindrance to His Campaign but There Are Ways He Can Overcome Challenges

NEW YORK, May 25 /PRNewswire/ -- Barack Obama's success on the campaign trail indicates that the United States may be ready to elect its first non- white president. A recent Newsweek poll, however, suggests that although he is poised to secure the Democratic nomination, Obama is still facing problems winning over white voters. In the June 2 Newsweek cover package "Obama, Race and Us" (on newsstands Monday, May 26) a team of Newsweek correspondents offer an open memo to Obama, with suggestions on how he can overcome race issues and convince doubters, of all skin colors or backgrounds, that they will be better off during an Obama presidency than a McCain presidency.

Newsweek pollsters recently created a "Racial Resentment Index" to measure the impact of race on the 2008 election. White voters were asked a series of 10 questions about a variety of race-related topics, including racial preferences in hiring, interracial marriage, and what they have "in common" with African-Americans. About a third of these voters scored "high" on this index; 29 percent of all white Democrats did. Overwhelmingly, these Democrats are the ones most likely to defect to John McCain in the fall. (Among "High RR" white Democratic voters, according to the new Newsweek Poll, Clinton leads McCain by 77 percent to 18 percent, while Obama only wins by 51 percent to 33 percent.) Many Democratic voters in West Virginia interviewed by a Newsweek reporter on primary night, May 13, did not hide their animus towards Obama as a kind of exotic alien. Menina Parsons, 45, said she will not vote for Obama in the general election because: "I don't think he's real. I don't think he's American."

The letter points out that some commentators have said that his problem is not with race but rather with geography. The Daily Kos Web site recently posted a map that makes the point: the majority of counties in which more than 65 percent of whites voted for Clinton closely track Appalachia-the mountainous region running from upstate New York into the Deep South, where voters tend to be somewhat less well-off and less well-educated than in other parts of the country. But Appalachia is a big place, encompassing 13 states and he cannot afford to lose all those states and still win in November. Dee Davis, president of a Kentucky-based advocacy group called the Center for Rural Strategies, points out in a recent article on that in June 2004, John Kerry trailed George W. Bush by the same 9-point margin in the same rural battlegrounds. "Your mission," Newsweek's letter urges, "is to not wind up like Kerry, who ended up losing the rural vote by 20 points." According to Davis, the reality "is that when Democratic candidates run competitively in rural America, they win national elections. And when they get creamed in rural America, they lose."

For other issues such as the questions over his patriotism, the letter suggests Obama take the high road. "The Internet has been a sluice for lies and distortions about your religion and background. It is widely and falsely rumored that you are Muslim (in the Newsweek poll, 11 percent of voters believe you are); that you chose to be sworn into the Senate using a Qu'ran rather than a Bible; and that you refuse to place your hand over your heart for the singing of the national anthem because, you are imagined to have said, 'the anthem conveys a warlike message.' You must confront this slur, with more force than you have shown so far." While Newsweek sees Obama's recent wearing a flag lapel pin as wise, it also suggests it would be helpful to be seen venerating his white mother and grandparents as well as his black father. "Your mother is a sympathetic figure, fighting to raise a child out of poverty ... Voters need to know that you are definitely not John Kerry, who was raised to wealth and privilege, an Ivy Leaguer educated, for a time, at a French boarding school."

The cover package also includes essays on how the issue of race might play out in the election:
Contributing Editor Ellis Cose writes, "That Barack Obama seems poised to become the Democratic nominee is certainly evidence we've arrived at a redefining moment in this nation's evolution. But that's not to say race has ceased to be of consequence." He adds that, "for years, most Americans have told pollsters they were prepared to put race aside when voting for a president. Some 94 percent of Americans (up from 53 percent in 1967) tell Gallup they would vote for a black candidate. But it's impossible to know what to make of that, since respondents routinely lie to pollsters when asked any permutation of 'Are you racially biased?'"

Harold Ford Jr., Chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, writes that concerns about race in this election are overstated. He writes. "Do many rural or working-class people have questions about Obama? Sure. But these are less about race than about culture ... In the weeks and months ahead, he just needs to show that he respects them and understands the issues that matter to them ... Obama has run a first-rate primary campaign, energizing countless new voters. Now he's got to get off the big stage more often and meet with people where they work, play and pray ... He needs to earn their trust."

Richard Rodriguez, the author of "Brown: The Last Discovery of America" writes that America has become a mixed society. "There are millions of us in America who similarly belong to more than one race. There are millions of us who belong to contending races or religions or tribes." In this world, "the political necessity is for someone who might help us imagine lives larger than racial designations. A politician might win the day, if he or she were able to speak of the ways our lives are mixed."

Marjorie Valbrun, a contributing writer for, writes about the low-grade war of words between black women supporters of Barack Obama and white women supporters of Hillary Clinton. "Black women's support for Obama is not just about race, just as it's not solely about gender with Clinton supporters. The problem is that, as both camps have appealed to their most loyal supporters, the divide has broken down along racial lines: all too many progressive white women now say they will have a hard time voting for a black man in November."

(Read cover story at
Cover: Obama, Race and Us.
Harold Ford Jr.
Ellis Cose
Richard Rodriguez
Marjorie Valbrun
Source: Newsweek
CONTACT: Brenda Velez of Newsweek, +1-212-445-4078
Web site:

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