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A distorted view

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A distorted view

Americans rarely have an opportunity to vote for an African American for high office. Until the emergence of Barack Obama, many blacks believed that whites would not vote for a black candidate because of racial divisions. Nonetheless, blacks continued to go to the polls in presidential elections to vote for their favorite candidates — regardless of color or ethnicity.

The black vote was not always an exclusive Democratic stronghold. In the 1960 presidential election, 32 percent of blacks cast ballots for Richard Nixon. However, the tide turned sharply against Republicans in 1964, when Barry Goldwater got only 6 percent of the black vote, a forceful expression of black dissatisfaction with Goldwater’s aggressive opposition to the Civil Rights Act.

Over the next two decades, black voters moved solidly to the Democratic side. In 1988, Michael Dukakis was able to tally 89 percent of the black vote. Bill Clinton scored 82 percent in 1992 and 84 percent in 1996. George W. Bush won only 8 percent of the black vote in 2000, and just 11 percent in 2004.

When Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination in January 2007, early polls indicated that she had 60 percent of the African American vote, compared to only 20 percent for Obama. But as the campaign wore on, Clinton’s popularity with black voters began to erode, just as it did with white voters. In later primaries, such as the contests in Indiana and North Carolina, Obama won 90 percent or more of the black vote. After careful scrutiny of the candidates, black support has shifted to Obama.

Some pundits have mistakenly asserted that this swing to Obama by blacks is simply based on racial identification. Conservative political commentator Pat Buchanan has insisted that the black vote for Obama is race-based, like the white working class vote for Clinton. There is, however, a major difference. The historical record indicates that blacks have voted for whites for generations. How many of the white voters for Clinton who claim that their vote is racial have ever voted for a black candidate?

African Americans are understandably delighted that a candidate for president of Barack Obama’s caliber has broken through the racial barrier. But ethnic pride in his success is by no means the equivalent of hostility to whites.

Buchanan believes that it is acceptable for Clinton to announce that she is the champion of hardworking whites who will not vote for a black because it is true. The wise understand that it is not enough for one’s statement to be true. It must also be helpful and kind.

In “A Brief for Whitey,” a March 21, 2008, syndicated column responding to Obama’s Philadelphia speech on racism in America, Buchanan demonstrated extraordinary insensitivity to the race problem in America, stating that “America has been the best country on earth for black folks.” Consequently, he claims, any criticism of public policy by blacks demonstrates a lack of gratitude.

Buchanan then cites the “untold trillions … spent since the ’60s on welfare, food stamps, rent supplements, Section 8 housing, Pell grants, student loans, legal services, Medicaid, Earned Income Tax Credits and poverty programs designed to bring the African American community into the mainstream.” He fails to mention that these programs benefit many more whites than blacks. Of the 36.4 million Americans below the poverty level in 2006, roughly 44 percent were white, while only about 25 percent were black, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Poor whites, the ones who would never vote for a black candidate, are the ones who should be grateful to blacks for advocating government policies that benefit them and all Americans who qualify, regardless of race. With Obama as president, perhaps America can move beyond its racial divisiveness.