- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 23, 2008

OP-ED:

In setting up a joke to a mostly Irish Catholic audience in Pennsylvania yesterday, John McCain quipped: “There is only one ethnic joke you can tell nowadays and that’s an Irish joke.” The dilemma is indicative of the constant, sensitive discussions surrounding “race in America,” and more specifically as it relates to the race for president.

Black Americans, it seems, are the one and only ethnic group that must be treated special in polls. Whether it is a poll about religion (which almost never include black evangelicals) or one about racism, it appears as if blacks are the only group in America that are discriminated against. And every issue that arises in the black community - including a run for president - has to have some element of racism or discrimination attached to it.

A much-ballyhooed AP-Yahoo poll out last week - is exhibit A. “By using their formulas, the researchers were able to conclude that race was a factor in how people vote.” You don’t say? One doesn’t need a “formula” to come to that conclusion. Each time these kind of polls “reveal that race plays a role in the race,” media outlets go ballistic with guilt disguised as awe and the Obama campaign adds another talking point to its arsenal. One news analysis called it “Obama’s race problem.” The only “problem” that he has as it relates to race - is the one he keeps bringing up and is continuously perpetuated by the media.

It opens the door on a host of rhetorical questions. Why a poll on racism and not sexism? How about a poll that defines what being black enough is? (According to my hate mail, I’m not.) What about one that asks black people whether they are voting for Barack Obama simply because he is black or against John McCain because he is white? How about - no polls on race? What do they accomplish other than to incite emotion, without addressing root causes? The answer could be found in the second part of the poll’s purpose: “They then used the formulas to predict how much support Obama is losing because of his race.” Ah ha! Admitted justification. You, see there has got to be some nefarious, underlying reason why Mr. Obama isn’t doing better in the polls. Some reason why, despite all of his charm, he is just breaking even and not whipping the pants off of Mr. McCain. It can’t just be that he is out of touch or inexperienced. Of course, it’s race; his race has to be a factor.

So now that that’s been determined - what to do with that new little nugget of information? “The result,” as the report states, “Obama would receive an estimated 6 percentage points more support if there were no racial prejudice. You hear that Team Obama? If you can now put an end to racism in America, Mr. Obama would win the race! (And Mr. McCain would win by a landslide if he just got 20 percent of the 90 percent of blacks who will vote for Mr. Obama.)

Do the pollsters honestly believe that 6 percent is that significant? And that it can evaporate between now and November? It’s not likely. Racism, racist attitudes and stereotypes don’t dissipate overnight. No matter what Mr. Obama says or does, is not going to change that. Surely his campaign has already factored in the “not gonna get it” vote and moved on.

Which once again, amplifies the futility of these “mean nothing” polls.

But that 6 percent - analysts insist - could “make it or break it” for Mr. Obama this election. So could his lack of foreign-policy experience, so could his big-government proposals, so could his response to the economic downturn, so could his debate performance or any number of factors that sway public opinion (and by much larger margins).

Earth to the glass half empty crowd: There is a black man on the ballot for president of the United States for the first time in history. He is running against a white man, with a slight lead and and has a pretty good shot at winning. What does that say about racism in America? A lot more than we’re giving the American (mostly white) people credit for.

How much of the vote will sexism cost Mr. McCain? Surely some Americans (maybe 6, perhaps, 10 percent) aren’t ready for a woman vice president (or president). How much support is Mr. McCain losing because of his age? Are there blacks that won’t vote for Mr. McCain because he is white? Is there a poll on that? No - because we only seem to care about white racism and prejudice - as if no other exists. To talk about real racism (black, white, Asian, Hispanic) in America - would be a project of massive proportions.

“I don’t know why that is, but it is,” Mr. McCain said of society’s apparent acceptability of only Irish jokes. One could say the same about the media’s obsession with white racism.

One thing is certain - should Mr. Obama lose - he’ll have been set up with a built-in excuse.

Tara Wall is deputy editorial page editor of The Washington Times. E-mail here.