Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Byron White (Voters Matter More?)

DC Examiner (and former NRO) writer Byron York is a friend of mine, but goodness knows what he was smoking when he decided to write this piece (thanks Andrew Sullivan).

The president and some of his policies are significantly less popular with white Americans than with black Americans, and his sky-high ratings among African-Americans make some of his positions appear a bit more popular overall than they actually are.

Asked whether their opinion of the president is favorable or unfavorable, 49 percent of whites in the Times poll say they have a favorable opinion of Obama. Among blacks the number is 80 percent. Twenty-one percent of whites say their view of the president is unfavorable, while the number of blacks with unfavorable opinions of Obama is too small to measure. [Emphasis added].

So, um, if you take out the overwhelming black support, Obama isn't really doing as well as polls might suggest. So, feel free to discount all that!

Oh, Byron, Byron, Byron, where to begin? First, in fairness, he's not the first person in the media to start drifing into this rather disturbing territory. A few years ago, CNN's Bill Schneider helpfully pointed out the "dependence" that Democrats have on the black vote:

What would have happened if no blacks had voted in 2000? Six states would have shifted from Al Gore to George W. Bush: Maryland, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Oregon. Bush would have won by 187 electoral votes, instead of five. A Florida recount? Not necessary.

Right now, there are 50 Democrats in the Senate. How many would be there without African-American voters? We checked the state exit polls for the 1996, 1998, and 2000 elections. If no blacks had voted, many Southern Democrats would not have made it to the Senate. Both Max Cleland and Zell Miller needed black votes to win in Georgia. So did Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Bill Nelson in Florida, John Edwards in North Carolina, and Ernest Hollings in South Carolina.

The "problem" with this analysis is -- what's the point? Analysis of the GOP's relative strengths and weaknesses comes down to geographic assessment. Schneider doesn't devote a segment to "What would the Senate look like if white Southerners didn vote for Republicans (which in some states they do to upwards of 70 or 80 percent)?" But blacks voting for Democrats is staged as some sort of "exception" that should implicitly invalidate the reality of the current political situation.

Ironically, this Schneider segment -- as pernicious as it was in itself -- actually undermines York's even-worse piece: Simply put, because blacks tend to vote overwhelmingly black Democrat at the presidential level, there is actually very little difference between black support for Barack Obama and that of any "generic" Democratic president. Look at the general election: Obama received 95 percent of the black vote -- up from John Kerry's 88 percent in 2004; Al Gore received a rather stunning 90 percent in 2000, even better than Bill Clinton's 84 percent in '96)). Now, in pure numbers, far more blacks showed up at the polls than in previous elections because a black candidate was on the ballot, but with respect to the rest of the vote, the percentage of blacks voting for the Obama couldn't get that much higher. When one party regularly gets more than 90 percent of the vote from one ethnic group, there's only so much more that can get squeezed out.

So, based on York's own analysis: If 80 percent of blacks have a favorable opinion of Obama, how different is that than the general stamp of support that blacks would give to a Democratic president (particularly following a remarkably unpopular one as George W. Bush)?

York concludes his racial breakdown: "A continued high rating among black Americans will be a valuable pillar of support for the president, should he one day find himself in political trouble."

Oh, like Bill Clinton during impeachment, right?

UPDATE: As mentioned above, I've known Byron York for several years. The comment he made in his piece is pretty dumb. However, I'm reluctant to toss around the r-word -- "racist" -- in this column. Is it racially insensitive? Yes. Is it dumb. Sure. But I'm not sure if that makes York racist. For one thing, I remember a post he put up on NRO's "Corner" when the Sarah Palin story broke. When the news came out that Bristol's baby-daddy Levi Johnston would be attending the the GOP convention, York noted:

Perhaps I'm focusing on an irrelevant issue, but the presence, or non-presence, of Johnston on the stage tonight strikes me as important. It's one thing for delegates to be understanding and compassionate about the fix these two teenagers have gotten themselves into. It's another to actually celebrate it. And, given what we've learned in the last few days, if Johnston is up on stage with his girlfriend and the Palin family, and Republicans are wildly cheering, it will certainly look like they are celebrating this situation.

I don't usually engage in these scenarios, but I'll do it here. If the Obamas had a 17 year-old daughter who was unmarried and pregnant by a tough-talking black kid, my guess is if that they all appeared onstage at a Democratic convention and the delegates were cheering wildly, a number of conservatives might be discussing the issue of dysfunctional black families.
Sorry, that sort of sensitivity isn't what one might automatically expect from a white conservative political journalist. It is however more exemplary of my experience with York over the years. His Examiner piece is dumb -- and its implications are offensive -- but I'm not ready to hit the "R"-button. Of course, it is fine to entertain the question whether it is possible for someone (of any race or background) to write an article that is implicitly racist without that person being racist. That, however, forces a level of philosophical charity that few are willing to entertain.

UPDATE II: Correction made to reflect that blacks overwhelming tendency is to vote Democrat (not "black") at the presidential level! Oops!

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