A common accusation from the left is that President Obama was targeted because of his race. Lee Siegel’s op-ed piece in the New York Times a few years ago was one example, suggesting that Romney was doing well because he is the blandest, and whitest candidate, in the Republican primary.
And yet, as became immediately apparent in 2009, millions of Americans were unwilling to accept the basic democratic premise that Mr. Obama legally and morally deserved to sit in the White House — and that was before they confronted his “socialist” and “un-American” policy agenda.
Mitt Romney knows this. He knows that he offers to these people the white solution to the problem of a black president. I am sure that Mr. Romney is not a racist. But I am also sure that, for the many Americans who find the thought of a black president unbearable, he is an ideal candidate. For these sudden outsiders, Mitt Romney is the conventional man with the outsider faith — an apocalyptic pragmatist — who will wrest the country back from the unconventional man with the intolerable outsider color.
It’s difficult to tell how Republicans would react to a different Democratic president, as there have only been two other Democrats in the White House in the last 47 years. Both were Southern Governors.
To be fair, much of what excited Democrats about Obama (his international background, his role as an activist in Chicago) scared the hell out of the people who disagree with him politically.
In many ways, his race helped Obama in the primary. That factor distinguished from the other 99 Senators, and helped cut into Hillary Clinton’s support, especially in the early primary state of South Carolina. So one reason it’s somewhat difficult to imagine a white Obama is that another freshman Senator would probably not have beaten Hillary Clinton in the primary.
Hillary Clinton probably would have been a different President, in some good ways and some bad ways (if she had actionable intelligence about Osama Bin Laden’s location, the military would have acted on it before the 2010 midterms). Plenty of Republicans have hated her for twenty-five years, so there would have been plenty of vitriol against her. On the other hand, she had more experience in politics at a national level, and more of a history of working with Republicans.
Republicans might respond differently to a John Edwards type President (assuming there were no John Edwards type scandals) but that’s for cultural reasons, more than racial reasons. A Southern Senator from a right-of-center state will tend to be more moderate than a Chicago politician.
So if a white male state senator from Chicago had given the keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic convention (which might have been possible, as a way to scare Mike Ditka away from seeking the Republican nomination) and become Senator from Illinois, and then president, I don’t think the reaction would have been different.
There are some cultural problems with Obama, but that’s complicated. We do have a constitutional requirement for a President to be born in the United States, which suggests a preference against outsiders. Someone who grew up overseas does go against the spirit of that.
According to Richard Woolfe’s Renegade, Clinton pollster Mark Penn identified the lack of American roots as something that could sink Obama in the 2008 primary.
All of these articles about his boyhood in Indonesia and his life in Hawaii are geared towards showing his background is diverse, multicultural and putting that in a new life. Save it for 2050. It also exposes a very strong weakness for him- his roots to basic American values and culture are at best limited. I cannot imagine electing a president during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and his values.
It didn’t work.