I noted yesterday that while pundits enjoy spinning complicated theories about what support for Barack Obama reveals about American attitudes toward race, the evidence suggests that Obama’s white support primarily comes from people who like his stance on Iraq. It’s just a coincidence that neither of his major white opponents can claim to have been consistent opponents of the war. Daniel Larison concedes that this may be so, but says Obama’s mostly positive press coverage must still stem from people’s yearning for a black savior to heal America’s racial divide. This could be so, but I have my doubts.
Obama is exactly the sort of politician you would expect to garner favorable press coverage. There’s a long tradition in Democratic primaries of a “fresh face” underdog candidate who’s plausibly an alternative to “the establishment” but at the same time not a radical who gets treated very kindly by the press until he gets within striking distance of winning the nomination. This is the Gary Hart story, the Paul Tsongas story, the Howard Dean story. Similarly, Obama’s combination of somewhat platitudinous rhetoric about finding pragmatic solutions to domestic problems is a perennial media favorite. The domestic issue on which he has the strongest actual profile has to do with energy conservation, which is the pet cause of the American elite. He’s good at delivering speeches to large audiences. He’s the only candidate in the race with a legitimate media star in her own right — Samantha Power — on his staff.
Generally speaking, I think there’s very little that needs explaining about either the source of Obama’s electoral appeal to that minority of Democrats who are supporting him or the source of his press coverage.
Race enters the Obama story in, I think, two places. One is that being African-American is almost certainly helping Obama with African-American voters. The other is that Obama became so famous in part because he’s black, and it was a noteworthy event when the Senate went from having zero black members to one black member. Absent that initial fame, he would never have been able to put himself in the position of being a plausible candidate. So, obviously, Obama’s race is part of the story of his ascent. It’s just not, I think, a very complicated part of the story, not the sort of thing that calls for the weaving or unweaving of tangled webs about the psychology of race.