An incoherent smear

Peter Beinart urges Barack Obama to call for the replacement of race-based preferences with class-based preferences. The quality of Beinart’s analysis ranges from shoddy to incoherent.

Beinart’s central premise is that the electorate includes a significant percentage of “racists” but that these racists can be “wooed” if they are persuaded that Obama is not “a guy who would favor his community [African-Americans] at their expense.” But it is not racist to oppose a candidate on the grounds that he will favor one community over another.

Beinart seems to anticipate this objection when he asserts that “there’s no rational reason to believe Obama would” favor “his community” at the expense of whites. But Obama supports race-based preferences which, by definition, favor members of one racial “community” over members of others. Thus, there is actually no rational reason to dispute that Obama would favor blacks over whites, at least in some important contexts.

Indeed, this obvious reality is the reason why Beinart urges Obama to oppose such racial preferences (doing so, he says would “confront head-on white fears that an Obama administration would favor minorities at whites’ expense”). If the white voters Beinart labels racist would vote for Obama once he makes it clear that he won’t disfavor their interests, then they are not racists. If they won’t, then Beinart is wrong to claim that their “racism” can be overcome by his proposal.

Beinart, it seems, was so eager to accuse white voters of racism that he overlooked this obvious point. His elitist arrogance got the better of him.

Beinart is similarly too quick to claim that “race will be central to this campaign because McCain needs it to be.” If, as Beinart claims, almost 20 percent of white Democrats and Democratic leaning independents will resist voting for Obama because of his race, then race is central to this race regardless of McCain’s alleged needs.

Beinart’s assertion that McCain needs race to be central is based on his view that McCain “simply doesn’t have many other cards to play.” Here, Beinart is merely expressing his partisanship. A less partisan observer might conclude that McCain has plenty of cards: his compelling history of extraordinary service to the country, his knowledge of foreign policy matters, his advocacy of the military strategy that seems to have turned things around in Iraq, his crusade against earmarks and other wasteful spending, his history of independence and of working with Democrats on key legislation, Obama’s lack of a comparable history, and Obama’s lack of experience.

Beinart argues, however, that McCain has already injected race into the campaign “on the pretext that Obama had brought it up first.” But Beinart does not deny that Obama did bring it up first, nor could he plausibly do so. Obama said that McCain and others would attack him for not looking like the presidents on the paper money. There is no serious dispute that this was a reference to race; members of his campaign have admitted as much. Thus, when the McCain campaign responded that Obama was playing the race card, it was speaking accurately and defensively. If McCain thought he “needed” race to be an issue, it is unlikely that his campaign would have waited around, hoping for Obama to whine about race, before bringing the subject up.

But, what about class-based preferences? Does this idea have merit? Would advocating it assist Obama? I’ll take these questions up in the next day or two?

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