Barack Obama does and doesn’t fulfill King’s dream

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The unchallenged article of faith is that the election of President Barack Obama fulfills Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream that the content of character should trump skin color. King uttered the words in his March on Washington speech in 1963. We&rsqu

The unchallenged article of faith is that the election of President Barack Obama fulfills Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream that the content of character should trump skin color. King uttered the words in his March on Washington speech in 1963. We’ll hear that said time and again in the march up to the King national holiday January 19 and Obama’s inauguration today.

Obama’s election did show that millions of whites could strap racial blinders around their eyes and punch the ticket for an African-American for the world’s most powerful political post. King would almost certainly glow with approval at that. But there are a couple of troubling caveats that mar America’s great racial leap forward. Obama won in large part because he did what no other Democratic presidential candidate did, and that includes Bill Clinton. He turned his presidential campaign into a virtual holy crusade by African-Americans voters to get him in the White House. The staggering 96 percent of the Black vote he got made the crucial difference in the key Democratic primaries and later in nailing down the victory over Republican rival John McCain in the must win states of Ohio and Pennsylvania.

At the same time, Obama’s allure to white, college-educated young business professionals was overstated. McCain got 53 percent of their vote. He trounced Obama among North and South rural and blue collar whites. Obama won in only 44 counties in the Appalachian belt, a stretch of more than 400 counties from New York to Mississippi. Overall, he got less than a third of Southern white votes.

A mid-September 2008 survey also found that a significant percentage of whites who said they’d vote for Obama also said that Blacks were more crime prone and less industrious than whites. There were several ways to look at this seeming racial paradox. One is that these Obama backers were so fed up with Bush policies and a battered economy that Obama offered a change and a lifeline. Another was that he presented a race neutral soothing departure from the perceived race baiting antics of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. And yet another was that he simply was sufficiently racially ambiguous enough not to pose any real racial threat.

In other words, he was seen as a racial exception. That’s the penchant for some whites to make artificial distinctions between supposedly good and bad Blacks.

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