The discussion of the politics of race typically starts and ends with the question: “Are whites ready to elect a black man as president?” The question that Barack Obama’s strategists should be asking is, “Are Hispanics willing to vote for a black man for president?”
Many pundits assumed that when Hillary Clinton played “the race card,” she meant to solidify her cred with white voters – particularly those who are lower income and less educated – by reminding them of Obama’s blackness, so as to undermine his campaign strategy based on transcending race. Hillary’s “Southern strategy,” as it were:
† Margaret Carlson: “I saw Al Sharpton defending Senator Barack Obama from charges of youthful drug abuse. … Sharpton has done things to redeem himself in recent years, but his presence is a one-way ticket back to Tawana Brawley, boycotts, shakedowns and good old-fashioned, in-your-face confrontational race-based politics. Seeing him in that box on TV, I realized that the Clintons had done what they needed to do to stop Obama's historic surge in its tracks.”
† Timothy Egan: [E]very mention of race – from the overblown dust-up with Senator Hillary Clinton this week to the calculated comments comparing him to Sidney Poitier – is bad for Obama. A victory in South Carolina, with its heavy black vote, will be seen as one-dimensional. He needs people to look at him and see John Kennedy, or The Beatles, or Tiger Woods in his first Master’s tournament. He needs people to see youth, a break with the past, style under pressure. When they see black this or black that - even a positive black first - it’s trouble.
† Eugene Robinson: It was never realistic to think that race - or gender, for that matter - would stay out of a contest starring the first woman and the first African American with realistic hopes of becoming president. … That seemed a curious tactic to employ just two weeks before the South Carolina Democratic primary, in which African Americans are expected to cast about half the total votes. … The Clintons … might well be resigned to the possibility that most black Democrats will vote for Obama. This would mean that South Carolina is probably already lost and that the campaign's focus now has to be on Florida and the many states whose delegates are up for grabs on "Tsunami Tuesday." Is it possible that accusing Obama and his campaign of playing the race card might create doubt in the minds of the moderate, independent white voters who now seem so enamored of the young, black senator? Might that be the idea?
Obama is convinced that white racism is yesterday’s news, else wouldn’t be running on the promise of a new tomorrow. Hillary must be convinced of it too, which means her only strategic option is to exploit black-Hispanic tensions. Obama is up against “El Efecto Bradley,” the Hispanic version of the Bradley effect, where it’s all Kumbaya amongst black and Hispanic leaders but a different story on the mean streets. Reports The New York Times:
Mr. Obama confronts a history of often uneasy and competitive relations between blacks and Hispanics, particularly as they have jockeyed for influence in cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.
“Many Latinos are not ready for a person of color,” Natasha Carrillo, 20, of East Los Angeles, said. “I don’t think many Latinos will vote for Obama. There’s always been tension in the black and Latino communities. There’s still that strong ethnic division. I helped organize citizenship drives, and those who I’ve talked to support Clinton.” …
The tensions between Hispanics and African-Americans have increased proportionately with the influx of new Hispanics in areas like the Southwest, experts on the relationships said.
Mexican-Americans and other groups have increasingly migrated to traditionally black neighborhoods, the experts said.
“There have been enormous misunderstandings and conflicts over local resources and political representations between the two groups which simmer right below the surface and sometimes erupt,” said Albert M. Camarillo, founding director of the Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity at Stanford.