Saturday, November 01, 2008

Maybe Herbert’s Projecting

Tibor R. Machan

Bob Herbert, The New York Times' columnist who is obsessed with the topic, claims that Tuesday’s election will be about how much voters are concerned about Senator Obama’s race. Well, I certainly have no concern about the senator’s race and Herbert’s thinking that many voters do suggests this kind of faulty judgment on his, not on their, part.

I bet that what voters have far more concerns about is Senator Obama’s economic philosophy, just as they probably have concerns about McCain's inept running mate and his apparent refusal to plan to scale down and stop that disastrous war in Iraq!

Actually, race is nothing--might as well be concerned with Obama's height or McCain's lack of it or thinning hair. Bob Herbert appears to be projecting instead of reading the electorate correctly. Yes, there will be those who are thinking about the Illinois senator’s race, whatever that actually is (for that itself is quite ambiguous, not to mention irrelevant). But I would bet that many voters reading Bob Herbert’s ridiculous column are more concerned about the kind of race-baiting he is engaging in than about anyone’s race. What, after all, could race have to do with one’s capacity to perform the job in office he or she seeks?

Even if some voters will vote for the senator just because he is “black,” that is itself may not be so much because they are racists but because they believe that by voting for a black candidate, they are taking a stand against the remaining racists across the country. This is too bad but it is not being a racist to do so. It is more like a reaction to many years of racism people have seen against blacks. One might best construe this as a type of defensiveness.

After all, what are those to do who have been witnessing and decrying racism against blacks throughout their lives when finally a black person does run for office? Most do not know whether Senator Obama has the makings of a good president or whether perhaps it is Senator McCain who does. In our time it seems to be the consensus on strategy that no one lays out his or her basic political philosophy so that voters can make a general assessment of the individual's qualifications. Instead candidates provide lists of promises they propose to fulfill at other people’s expense. Which makes them pretty much indistinguishable. So then given the history with racism in the country, it is not all that surprising that race will be, for some, a kind of last resort factor, especially on the part of blacks who have been targeted with racism far more than whites have been.

What actually is really wrong with racism? It is to judge another individual based on something over which he or she has absolutely no say. As Martin Luther King observed in that famous sentence of his, what matters about someone is the content of his or her character, not the color of his or her skin or, indeed, where he was born, whether man or woman, etc. All these factors about people are beyond their capacity to have any control over. They cannot demonstrate someone’s decency, wisdom, skill or the like.

Racism is an insidious lumping together of people based on having in common something utterly irrelevant, who could differ from one another in matters of substance. Which is why racism is prejudice--pre-judgment. It amounts to judging someone prior to knowing the person’s important attributes, based on ones that matter not even a bit. Such collectivist assessment of others goes hand in hand with prejudices based on ethnic membership, gender, or original nationality, factors over which one has no say, once again.

In contrast, judging someone by his or her political affiliation, even religion, is quite different, or at least can be. These are matters people can certainly choose once they have reached maturity. And some such choices could well be objectionable. Not that some of the assessments based on religion or politics cannot be irrational, when done thoughtlessly, but they need not be. What a person believes is something open to evaluation by others because it matters in how one lives, which can be ranked as good or bad or something in between. All this is very different from judging human beings based on their race.

Sure, there are racists voting in America but I bet that most people worry less than Bob Herbert does about a candidates’ race and more about what’s on their minds and what they might do in office.

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