Back in January, I was troubled by the results of the New Hampshire primary, not because I could pinpoint racism as the cause of Obama’s loss but because our country’s cloudy record on race relations muddies the waters on such an evaluation. There is always some doubt when a black man loses a contest whether race played a role or not. Even when, as in West Virginia, some 21% of those polled said race played a role in their vote, what does this mean? Could race have played a positive role? Personally, I doubt it, but the pollster’s question allowed the answer to be ambiguous.
There is another factor which muddies the waters in West Virginia, Kentucky and other Appalachian areas. Obama did not actively campaign in either West Virgina or Kentucky. This I believe is a huge tactical error. You cannot win if you don’t play. The only way to isolate racism as Obama’s stumbling block is to remove other possible factors. “I didn’t get to know him so I didn’t vote for him.” This is a perfectly valid excuse, even if in some cases it masks a more sinister motive.
For Obama to be true to his role as a unifier, he has to reach out to all audiences including those he expects will reject him out of hand. Let’s be clear, Obama’s campaign workers have encountered blatant racism as they work the streets on his behalf. Still, this cannot deter Obama. He must go to every hamlet in this country spreading his message of One America. He needs to tell the folks in poverty stricken white enclaves that he is not so different from them. He was not born rich. He was not even born exclusively black. He has lived the “white experience” in this country as much as the so called “black experience”.
Once Obama gives his all to places like West Virginia and Kentucky, we may then re-examine to what degree racism plays a role in their political choices. Sadly, the conclusion may be the same but at least the effort to bridge the gap will have been made.