Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Hillary Does Better in States That "Look Like America," Where Diversity Breeds Realists

Syndicated columnist Jonathan Goldberg, another whose thought processes I don't always find persuasive, seems to be onto something when he notes contrasting demographics in the states where Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have done well among Democratic voters.

Obama has done very well among black voters in states with large black populations, and very well among white voters in states with few black residents. "But in states that actually 'look like America,' he tends to get beaten by Hillary Clinton. He lost melting-pot states such as Nevada, California, Massachusetts and New York largely because he couldn't accumulate nearly enough white or Latino votes."

Goldberg suggests that Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, might have explained why this is so in some controversial findings he released in 2006. Goldberg says Putnam told the Financial Times: "In the presence of diversity, we hunker down. The effect of diversity is worse than had been imagined. And it's not just that we don't trust people who are not like us. In diverse communities, we don't trust people who do look like us."

This could be taken to mean that diverse communities breed racism and ethnic resentment. Goldberg suggests another option: "increased diversity breeds not so much resentment as realism--at least among rank-and-file voters."

Having been deeply inspired by John F. Kennedy while I was in high school, then deeply disappointed later by revelations of his personal antics in the White House, his mistakes in authorizing the Bay of Pigs invasion, his reluctance to join the civil rights movement, and above all foreign policy blunders that led directly to the Vietnam debacle, I might add that experiencing diversity also includes experiencing disappointment with political crusades.

Thus even though I can be moved by Obama's vision and rhetoric, I am wary of his ability to achieve them. We need to heed the warning of Old Testament writers about the hazards of putting our trust in princes. Goldberg's closing words ring true:

"It's easy for upscale liberals to talk about the glories of diversity because they live at Olympian heights, above the reality of multicultural America. For Obama's wealthy, white, liberal supporters, diversity is knowing a rich black lawyer, a wealthy Latino accountant and lots of well-to-do gay folks.

"Meanwhile, for working-class white liberals who live in places such as Iowa or Maine, its easy to see our racial divide in almost purely theoretical terms and therefore believe that purely rhetorical responses are sufficient; Obama says the right words, and that's all we need.

"But for much of the rest of the country, people are more skeptical that high-flying talk about diversity and unity, married to fairly conventional liberal politics on affirmative action, immigration and the like, will do much to solve the real problems we face. They may have never heard such rhetoric delivered so well. But they've certainly heard it before."

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