Wednesday :: Apr 9, 2008

Grand Unified Theory of Teh Race (GUTTeR)

by eriposte

In the past, I've highly recommended this book: "Whitewashing Race: The Myth of a Color-Blind Society" by Michael K. Brown, Martin Carnoy, Elliott Currie, Troy Duster, David B. Oppenheimer, Marjorie Shultz, and David Wellman. This fantastic and scholarly (but easy-to-understand) book is a must-read for anyone who really wants to understand racism in American society - both in the historical context and as it applies to modern America. I don't care whether you are a conservative or liberal or moderate, Democrat, Republican or Independent - if you want to understand race and racism in America, and how we can fix it, you should fork up some dollars and buy yourself a copy of this book. You may not agree with some of its conclusions, but I assure you it is worth reading.

In contrast, there are many writings that are eminently consigned to the dustbin of history. A recent 'analysis' piece published at In These Times by the fairly predictable David Sirota is a good example of one such article. Sirota BrilliantlyTM discovered a Race ChasmTM in the electorate - one that UnsurprisinglyTM manifested in most of the states that Sen. Clinton won. In Sirota's ScholarlyTM view, this Race ChasmTM was deliberately exploited by the Clinton campaign (shocker!!) in order to beat Sen. Obama in those very states (you can understand why this sent a thrill up Josh Marshall's leg as he pleasingly linked to Sirota's piece). Sirota is somewhat uncharacteristically cautious in including an important caveat in his article (below) but is characteristically careful to essentially ignore it in his sweeping conclusions trashing Sen. Clinton (emphasis mine throughout this post, unless otherwise stated):

Clearly, each primary and caucus contest has its own unique politics, and race is not the only factor moving votes. Despite the oversimplified punditry that comes with presidential campaigns, demographic groups—white, black or any other—do not vote as monoliths. That said, a phenomenon as stark as the Race Chasm over 33 elections is obviously affecting the campaign—particularly considering the regional and red-blue diversity of each state cluster on the graph.

Talk about oversimplified punditry! In honor of the great work done by Sirota (which sadly, lacking in humor, may not qualify even as a Letter in the Journal of Irreproducible Results), I am going to refer to his theory as his Grand Unified Theory of Teh Race (GUTTeR)TM. GUTTeRTM works in mysterious ways as we shall see below in the following parts:

Part 1: The "Black" Candidate

Part 2: Teh Race ChasmTM States

Part 3: An Update to The Clinton Rules and The Obama Rules

Part 4: Teh Race of the Superdelegates

Final Observations

Part 1: The "Black" Candidate

Sirota's GUTTeRTM is partly based on the observation that the Clinton campaign (as opposed to surrogates whom the candidate did not agree with) has injected race into the campaign ("one of the twin pillars of the Clinton firewall" he says). This is because, unlike the case of Sen. Obama whose surrogates never speak for him when they utter the most offensive or inappropriate things, we should remember that even though Sen. Clinton disagreed with or distanced herself from some of her surrogates, Clinton Surrogates Always Speak For HerTM. This is in fact one of the fundamental tenets of The Clinton Rules and The Obama Rules.

In this context, Sirota brings up the issue of:

...Clinton aides telling the Associated Press that Obama is “the black candidate,”...

Those mysterious "Clinton aides" who always speak for her! Could these people be the ones Sirota is referring to?

Person A:

[Person A]...I think in the end he has an ability to help us bridge the divide of religious extremism. To maybe even give power to moderate Islam. To be able to stand up against this radical misinterpretation of a legitimate religion...

[Question]: ...What gives him credibility on that score?

[Person A]: Because he's African-American. Because he's a Black man who has come from a place of oppression and repression through the years in our own country.

Person B:

He, for the first time, I think, as a black leader in America, has come to the American people not as a victim, but rather as a leader.

Person C:

[He] acknowledges, with no small irony, that he benefits from his race.

If he were white, he once bluntly noted, he would simply be one of nine freshmen senators, almost certainly without a multimillion-dollar book deal and a shred of celebrity. Or would he have been elected at all?

[HINT: All of the above people support Sen. Obama. Person A is Sen. John Kerry, Person B is Sen. Claire McCaskill, Person C is Sen. Barack Obama]

Or could this be the person Sirota is talking about?

He said Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois had recently asked him "if it comes down to the last day and you're the only superdelegate? ... Do you want to go down in history as the one to prevent a black from winning the White House?

"I told him I'd think about it," Cleaver concluded.

Jackson, an Obama supporter, confirmed the conversation, and said the dilemma may pose a career risk for some black politicians. "Many of these guys have offered their support to Mrs. Clinton, but Obama has won their districts. So you wake up without the carpet under your feet. You might find some young primary challenger placing you in a difficult position" in the future, he added. ... ..

[More here]

Very Troubling IndeedTM. All those "racists" in the Clinton campaign and their "pillar of the Clinton firewall"! Have they no shame?

Part 2: Teh Race ChasmTM States

Another key aspect of Sirota's GUTTeRTM is this:

As the Race Chasm graph shows, when you chart Obama’s margin of victory or defeat against the percentage of African-Americans living in that state, a striking U trend emerges. That precipitous dip in Obama’s performance in states with a big-but-not-huge African-American population is the Race Chasm—and that chasm is no coincidence.

On the left of the graph, among the states with the smallest black population, Obama has destroyed Clinton. With the candidates differing little on issues, this trend is likely due, in part, to the fact that black-white racial politics are all but non-existent in nearly totally white states. Thus, Clinton has fewer built-in advantages. Though some of these states like Idaho or Wyoming have reputations for intolerance thanks to the occasional militia headlines, black-white interaction in these places is not a part of people’s daily lives, nor their political decisions. Put another way, the dialect of racism—the hints of the Ferraro comment and codes of Bill Clinton’s Jesse Jackson reference, for instance—is not politically effective because such language has not historically been a significant part of the local political discussion. That’s especially true in the liberal-skewed Democratic primary.

I'll come back to the comment about "liberal-skewed Democratic primary" in a moment (after all many of these states had caucuses rather than primaries - and caucuses usually have much lower turnouts than primaries). Let's continue to be amazed at Sirota's GUTTeRTM:

On the right of the graph among the states with the largest black populations, Obama has also crushed Clinton. Unlike the super-white states, these states—many in the Deep South—have a long and sordid history of day-to-day, black-white racial politics, with Richard Nixon famously pioneering Republican’s “southern strategy” to maximize the racist segregationist vote in general elections. “But in the Democratic primary the black vote is so huge [in these states], it can overwhelm the white vote,” says Thomas Schaller, a political science professor at the University of Maryland—Baltimore. That black vote has gone primarily to Obama, helping him win these states by big margins.

It is certainly correct that African-American voting has dominated some of the deep-south primaries and allowed Sen. Obama to win there as a result (e.g., South Carolina), but remember, according to Sirota's GUTTeRTM, if the Clinton campaign points this out, they are Teh RacistsTM! (In fact, did you know that according to this GUTTeRTM, The Nation magazine would be considered racist?) Sirota on the other hand is just an Objective Conveyor of FactsTM who conveniently fails to update his GUTTeRTM chart to note that just because Sen. Obama was able to win because of the large African-American populations in some southern states, it doesn't mean there is no Race ChasmTM in those states (as Sirota says, they "have a long and sordid history of day-to-day, black-white racial politics" but somehow this doesn't translate to a recognition that there is a Race ChasmTM in those states manifested by whites tending to vote less for a Black candidate). Again, you can see why this article sent a thrill up Josh Marshall's leg!

Bob Somerby covered Sirota's GUTTeRTM on Friday, so let me tell you what he said and save myself some work (emphasis in original, except where stated):

Are progressives really brighter than conservatives? As a group, we tended to believe it when John Dean (who we admire) wrote that book. But uh-oh! This week, we emitted a low, mordant chuckle at one part of href="" target=external>this David Sirota piece, to which we’d been linked by the person who has kidnapped Josh Marshall.

What produced that mordant chuckle? At one point, Sirota stopped calling everyone racists long enough to say this about John Hagee:

SIROTA (4/2/08): Similarly, the media refuse to ask John McCain why he solicited the endorsement of John Hagee—a pastor who has repeatedly slandered Catholics, once calling their religion “a great whore.” Apparently, confrontational statements by a black man are "controversial" but white extremism is perfectly acceptable.

We misread that passage the first time through; we mistakenly thought Sirota had said that Hagee had repeatedly called Catholicism “a great whore.” And so, we eagerly clicked on his link, curious to see the examples he had. Surprise! We found ourselves linked to our own DAILY HOWLER piece from two weeks ago, the one in which we noted that liberal critics hadn’t presented a clear example in which Hagee made such a statement. Was David playing a bit of a joke? Or is this the way we progressives do research? We wondered again when we reviewed the major thesis of his “Race Chasm” piece, in which he basically yelled race race race at the Clinton campaign, and at Dem voters in general. In the process, he displayed a remarkably low analytical standard, offering this hapless summary of (to be honest) an unhelpful graph:

SIROTA (3/31/08): On the left of the graph, among the states with the smallest black population, Obama has destroyed Clinton. With the candidates differing little on issues, this trend is likely due, in part, to the fact that black-white racial politics are all but non-existent in nearly totally white states. Thus, Clinton has fewer built-in advantages...Put another way, the dialect of racism—the hints of the Ferraro comment and codes of Bill Clinton’s Jesse Jackson reference, for instance—is not politically effective because such language has not historically been a significant part of the local political discussion. That’s especially true in the liberal-skewed Democratic primary.

Long ago, we observed an unfortunate fact; some men go into stand-up comedy to ridicule women from a bright stage, with the help of a microphone. Similarly, some people seem to be become “progressives” so they can accuse average schmoes of racism, thus displaying their own moral grandeur. [Eriposte emphasis]

The "fun" hasn't even begun. Somerby continues (emphasis mine, through the rest of this post):

It’s true: Sirota’s graph does in fact show that Obama “has destroyed Clinton” in “the states with the smallest black populations.” (The states in question on Sirota’s graph are these: Idaho, Vermont, Maine, North Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Washington, Alaska, Colorado, Minnesota, Nebraska and Kansas. We dropped Hawaii, for fairly obvious reasons.) Sirota is careful enough to say that this pattern is “likely” due to racial dynamics “in part.” But as good pseudo-progressives must do, he then moves straight to the racial insults, failing to note other obvious factors which could explain this clump of outcomes.

One such factor is fairly obvious. These are almost all caucus states; on Sirota’s chart, all the data from these states (except Utah and Vermont) reflect caucus events. How different might these data have been if these states had conducted primaries? There is, of course, no way to know. But the state of Washington is one of the states at whose results we’re supposed to gape—and Washington did conduct a primary, ten days after its caucuses. (No delegates were awarded in the primary.) The outcomes of these two events were substantially different. Obama won the caucuses by a huge margin, 68-31, as you see on Sirota’s graph. Ten days later, he also won Washington’s primary—but only by 51-46, presumably with many more Democratic voters taking part. (It’s hard to know how many people took part in the caucuses. The numbers in this Washington Post summary seem to reflect delegates chosen at the caucuses, not the number of voters participating.)

So which is it? Is Washington a 68-31 state? Or is its “real” margin 51-46? And what would have happened if those other states had conducted primaries instead of caucuses? Once again, there’s no way to know—and the force of Sirota’s lusty charge stems from the big margins achieved in low-turnout caucus events. But in a great deal of modern “progressive” politics, the real purpose of the exercise is fairly clear—the real goal is the desire to brand “low information voters” as slobbering racists. In Sirota’s hands, this led to some very slapdash analysis. (But then again, just look at his link to our piece!) By the way: However good this sort of name-calling feels, we’ll also assume that it’s a very bad way to get Dems elected to office. This includes Obama, of course. By the way: Obama doesn’t name-call this way. Neither, of course, did Dr. King.

So Rhodes was calling Clinton a wh*re, and Sirota was calling the public racists. At TPM, whoever has kidnapped Josh was tip-toeing along behind him, trying to wink and insinuate without quite saying such things. (Click here, for example. The person who has kidnapped Josh is quite good at clearing his throat.)

Are we liberals more intelligent? Or are we name-calling ditto-heads too? Let’s return to whoever has kid-napped Josh—because, in yet another third example, that person does seem to have stifled Greg Sargent. It has now been four full weeks since the “very short break” described in this post stopped the noise at Greg’s Horse’s Mouth site. Check out the work Greg was doing right before Josh’s kidnapper acted and you will perhaps wonder, as we have, if ditto-heads now rule your world.

Greg was discussing an obvious point, a point which has absolutely nothing to do with the relative merits of Obama and Clinton. Yes, large parts of the press corps have savaged Candidate Clinton, often in repugnant ways. Surely, this isn’t a controversial notion—and it continues an obvious pattern which extends back sixteen years. Did the person who kidnapped Josh think this was too much to ask young liberal readers to bear? We have no way of knowing, of course. But the “very short break” we were told about has now extended four weeks. And yes: We progressives used to laugh at the other side for just this sort of thing.

Today, though, progressives channel “Mister Drudge” and let the world know “Where the Wh*res Are.” Could it be we’re all ditto-heads now? For years, we did tell ourselves silly tales about our goodness and brilliance.

Note: Scrambling as always to tidy his messes, the person who has kidnapped Josh links to Brendan Nyhan, who has done some highly technical work examining Sirota’s thesis. By the way, what did Brendan quickly do when he reworked David’s material? Duh. He dumped the caucus states out of the mix—the ones David urged you to gape at.

I'll leave you to go read Brendan Nyhan's observations, one important portion of which says:

All of a sudden the racial chasm starts to look a lot less cavernous. An even more useful approach is to specifically consider white support for Obama as measured by exit polls (the real dependent variable of interest) rather than looking at aggregate results. When we do this for the same set of states Sirota considers and fit a linear trend to the data, there's no evidence of a "race chasm" -- sadly, there seems to be instead a negative linear relationship between Obama's white support and black population.

Oops! So much for the Race ChasmTM that the Clinton campaign Deliberately ExploitedTM in the specific states that she miraculously won due to her Blatant RacismTM!

That said, the most hilarious part of Sirota's GUTTeRTM isn't even in the portion that Somerby and Nyhan wrote about.

Part 3: An Update to The Clinton Rules and The Obama Rules

Sirota says:

It is in the chasm where Clinton has consistently defeated Obama. These are geographically diverse states from Ohio to Oklahoma to Massachusetts where racial politics is very much a part of the political culture, but where the black vote is too small to offset a white vote racially motivated by the Clinton campaign’s coded messages and tactics. The chasm exists in the cluster of states whose population is above 6 percent and below 17 percent black, and Clinton has won most of them by beating Obama handily among white working-class voters.

In sum, Obama has only been able to eke out victories in three states with Race Chasm demographics, where African-American populations make up more than 6 percent but less than 17 percent of the total population. And those three states provided him extra advantages: He won Illinois, his home state; Missouri, an Illinois border state; and Connecticut, a state whose Democratic electorate just two years before supported Ned Lamont’s insurgent candidacy against Joe Lieberman, and therefore had uniquely developed infrastructure and political cultures inclined to support an outsider candidacy. Meanwhile, three-quarters of all the states Clinton has won are those with Race Chasm demographics.

First, notice how every victory of Sen. Obama in Sirota's comically constructed Race ChasmTM states comes with a Pleasingly GloriousTM explanation, but every Clinton victory can be conveniently attributed (in significant part) to White RacismTM. Which is another way of saying that it is time to update The Clinton Rules and The Obama Rules. Naturally, there is no 'analysis' in Sirota's article as to whether Sen. Clinton herself would have done much better in many of the states if not for sexism in some portions of the electorate. There has no doubt been rampant sexism in parts of the so-called "progressive" blogosphere, traditional and fake "progressive" media, and in the Obama campaign itself, but I wouldn't go far enough to claim, using such anecdotal data that this was significant enough to influence the vote against Sen. Clinton in the races that she lost. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't. I have no idea. Moreover, there is no 'analysis' of the core support that Sen. Clinton has long had amongst large swaths of the Democratic base, long before some of the base had ever heard of anyone called Barack Obama (or is that only an ExplanationTM for why she won MI and FL?) - support based on her history and progressive policy positions, among other things. (Let me not even start with the role of the blogosphere and media in this race).

Second, if Sirota is actually right, shouldn't we ask a simple question? If Sen. Obama was unable to win the large states that Sen. Clinton won (most of which are a must-win in November for Democrats) due to white racism amongst a significant portion of Democratic voters, how in the world is he going to win those states in November when the proportion of white voters in those states will only increase dramatically due to the massive influx of even more conservative white voters who are Independents and Republicans? Further, if Republicans use racially "coded messages and tactics" that work - in the general election (anyone want to bet they won't?) - isn't that a prescription for a rout of Sen. Obama in those very states - many of which have long been reliably Democratic?

As you can imagine, these questions are not considered very seriously in the BrilliantTM piece that Josh Marshall couldn't wait to link to. Sirota says blithely:

Even if Clinton wins big in the remaining Race Chasm states, Obama has advantages in Montana, Oregon, North Carolina and South Dakota—smaller states, to be sure, but likely enough pledged delegates to keep a significant lead. Clinton, therefore, would have a difficult time convincing superdelegates to go against the will of the people in their states.

That leaves the “electability” argument with the superdelegates—and the problem for Clinton there is that polls show Obama is at least as “electable” as Clinton, if not more so.

In other words, Clinton is winning with the help of white racism amongst Democratic voters but Obama can win in those very states in November because, um, many of those very same whites - perhaps along with some even more conservative whites that don't vote in the Democratic primaries in those states will vote for Obama in the general election against McCain because their racism will magically disappear right after the superdelegates pick Sen. Obama as the nominee. Got it? It's so simple, really! If only those Racist Uneducated RubesTM in the Democratic party just understood The Math of the GUTTeRTM!

As Sirota says:

And then there is the Pew poll taken immediately after the major wave of media surrounding the Wright controversy. The survey showed both Obama and Clinton defeating McCain, but more significantly, Obama actually performing slightly better among white voters than Clinton—a blow to those Clinton backers hoping that superdelegates may begin to fear a white voter backlash against the Illinois senator.

Can you imagine that? All those RacistTM White voters only voted against Sen. Obama in the Democratic primaries but will vote for him solidly in the general election! So Offensively RacistTM of them!

Part 4: Teh Race of the Superdelegates

Sirota, not content with the GUTTeRTM he has spawned, hastens to add:

Of course, it doesn’t hurt Clinton’s cause that, close to half of the superdelegates are white, according to The Politico.

Can we expect the next edition of Sirota's GUTTeRTM to be a study of the secret racial beliefs and behaviors of the "White Superdelegates"? Pretty please?

Final Observations

The reality is that, outside of one or two generic observations on racism, there probably isn't more horse manure piled up in a single page on the allegedly "left" side of the internet than in Sirota's piece (although there is stiff competition in the past few months I must say). His piece is egregiously offensive in so many different ways just in its casual contempt for facts and for large sections of the electorate. These are the kinds of articles that, if we were really in a "Reality Based Community", would shame the author into never again writing another piece. In an academic setting, these kinds of articles are enough for the author to be forever ignored. But we aren't in a "Reality Based Community" any more, which is why economist and Professor Brad DeLong was sadly linking uncritically to Sirota's piece.

I certainly don't have the time to waste debunking every bit of Sirota's article but here is just one other example that illustrates the despicable smear job that it really is:

Clinton, knowing the Race Chasm can fortify her firewall, has subsequently intensified her efforts to put race front and center in the campaign, most recently attacking Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s former pastor who has delivered fiery speeches indicting white racism. She is so determined to raise race issues in advance of these Race Chasm contests that she gave an in-person interview to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review specifically to criticize Wright. For reference, the Tribune-Review is a conservative newspaper in western Pennsylvania owned by the same Richard Mellon Scaife who funded the anti-Clinton witchhunts of the ’90s.

Sen. Clinton had intentionally not said a word about Jeremiah Wright until after the Obama campaign (in response to the wave of negative publicity surrounding his association with Wright) released a photo to the press trying to link Wright to the Clintons (also see here) and she only commented directly on Wright subsequently and after she was asked about the issue by the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. As I said then, Sen. Obama's attempt to tie the Clintons to Wright was a politically stupid move that will backfire on him and his campaign in the general election (if he is the nominee) because he made his own association with Wright entirely fair game with this act. So, it is entirely false to claim that Sen. Clinton "intensified her efforts to put race front and center in the campaign, most recently attacking Jeremiah Wright". What's worse is the comical ESP-like claim in Sirota's piece - that Clinton "gave an in-person interview to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review specifically to criticize Wright". This is naturally offered without any proof whatsoever - namely, proof that she specifically decided to give an interview to the P.T.R. in order to raise the Wright issue. This is not surprising because it is very typical of several prominent Obama bloggers/supporters on the net who routinely make entirely unsubstantiated and offensive claims about Sen. Clinton the way some right-wingers always have. At other times, these bloggers or supporters have advanced claims that were outright lies about the campaign, very much like the "Saddam is linked to 9/11" type pronouncements we saw regularly from right-wing bloggers, and then blamed Sen. Clinton for the offenses fabricated out of entire cloth. If there's one thing we know from this campaign, Clinton Derangement Syndrome has no ideological limits. The silver lining is that this campaign has made it clear who the fake progressives in our midst are*. I am certainly thankful for that.

Let me say that, in this context, it is also worth reading Anglachel's post "Otherness". I don't agree with all of it, but she raises a key point that pertains directly to the segment of the Democratic party that revels in making sweeping and false accusations of racism, especially against fellow Democrats. This segment is the foundation of the Reverse Racism Chasm within the Democratic party and reverse racism is their electoral firewall. The toxic stain they leave within the Democratic party is fundamentally dangerous to the party's ability to win amongst the broader electorate and to defeat real racism everywhere in society, especially emanating from portions of the Republican party. People like David Sirota, who falsely cry racism, and repeatedly so, do enormous damage to the civil rights movement and negate the real hard work being done by thousands of activists in the fight against real racism in American society.

For completeness, let me add this. Here's the latest news from the campaign of The Greatest Post-Racial Candidate EverTM - a candidate whose idea of post-raciality includes sending his campaign advisors or surrogates to cautiously threaten very progressive African-American leaders to support the "Black" candidate in the race, a candidate whose campaign and key supporters have repeatedly and falsely accused his opponent (Sen. Clinton) of race-baiting or racism while he and his surrogates freely made statements that could very well be interpreted as racist (although not by me) or sexist (here, here, here, and here for example):

While the crowd was indeed diverse, some students at the event questioned the practices of Mrs. Obama’s event coordinators, who handpicked the crowd sitting behind Mrs. Obama. The Tartan’s correspondents observed one event coordinator say to another, “Get me more white people, we need more white people.” To an Asian girl sitting in the back row, one coordinator said, “We’re moving you, sorry. It’s going to look so pretty, though.”

“I didn’t know they would say, ‘We need a white person here,’ ” said attendee and senior psychology major Shayna Watson, who sat in the crowd behind Mrs. Obama. “I understood they would want a show of diversity, but to pick up people and to reseat them, I didn’t know it would be so outright.”

As Jeralyn says:

Can you imagine if a similar request for African-Americans was made by the Clinton campaign? It would lead the evening news.

Well, it would certainly send a thrill up both of Keith Olbermann's legs.

*P.S. Before I get criticized for claiming that I am a real progressive, I'll say this. I am roughly a moderate with views that put me on the progressive end of the spectrum on many issues and on the moderate to conservative end of the spectrum in others. Also see my post: "Who Represents The Progressive Movement?"

P.P.S. One of the decisions I made in the past few weeks is that I am going to withhold any future contributions to seemingly "progressive" organizations until further notice. Not that these organizations will miss my contributions, but I am also holding off on the efforts I had planned to get friends and colleagues to donate to such organizations until I have a better sense for the kind of people who will get funded by those donations. Sirota's byline says "He is a fellow at the Campaign for America's Future and a board member of the Progressive States Network -- both nonpartisan organizations." I am sure these are generally good organizations, but there are now two less organizations I am going to donate to.

eriposte :: 7:48 AM :: Comments (47) :: Digg It!