Monday, April 23, 2007

An Obaminable Reason To Vote For Somebody

David Greenberg has this article in Slate trotting out the already-tired comparison between Barack Obama and JFK. Like JFK, we learn, Obama "manages to inspire people with sex appeal, cerebral cool, and a message of generational change."

Fine. Whatever.

But the article goes on to make a more specific comparison. Kennedy, you see, was Catholic, and at the time he ran this was thought by many to be a Big Deal. Obama is black, or at least he so identifies. (He is of mixed race, and by the not-particularly-logical rules of American culture, this makes somebody "black," unless they work very hard to stress their racially-mixed background.) And this may turn out to be a Big Deal as well. According to Greenberg's account, Kennedy was down big going into the West Virginia primary, a state where his Catholicism could really hurt him. But Kennedy turned it around: he gave an interview with Franklin Roosevelt Jr. where he dealt candidly with the issue of his Catholicism. In so doing, he made it an issue of tolerance: vote for Kennedy and prove you aren't an anti-Catholic bigot.

Greenburg thinks that Obama is using a similar tactic: implicitly telling white voters that a vote for him is a way of demonstrating their own moral rectitude.

Now I know I shouldn't be "Shocked! Shocked!" at any campaign tactics, but isn't this a really bad reason to vote for a guy? Sure, if you think Obama will make a great President, you ought to vote for him. By the same token, if you think he'd make a really bad President, you ought to vote against him.

As an individualist, I would certainly say it's stupid to vote against somebody because of their race, or gender, or other irrelevant characteristic. But, by the same token, it's stupid to vote for somebody as a sort of fashion statement. I mean, couldn't people just drive a Volvo instead?

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