Friday, November 14, 2008

Race and Obama in Kentucky

Two contradictory and self-destructive myths regarding Barack Obama's 16-point loss in Kentucky are taking hold among political types seeking to avoid responsibility for the catastrophe.

One myth claims Kentucky's millions of racists voted against Obama: "Racism is endemic! Nothing we can do about it! Not our fault!" Never mind that Obama carried racist-infested Ohio and Indiana.

The other myth claims Kentuckians won't vote for anybody they haven't met in person: "Obama never visited the rural counties! He's to blame! Not our fault!" Never mind that McCain visited Kentucky the exact same number of times Obama did - once.

The Courier-Journal has two pieces that, together, refute both of those myths and point the way to preventing this debacle from happening again.

(More after the jump.)

In the first, R.G. Dunlop explores why five white, rural counties went for Obama.

It was no great surprise that Barack Obama, who lost Kentucky by 16 percentage points to Republican John McCain in the Nov. 4 election, carried Jefferson and Fayette counties, the state's largest and most urban.

He'd won them in the May primary -- the only two counties he carried -- when Sen. Hillary Clinton claimed a landslide victory.

But in the general election Obama also carried five small, rural counties with relatively few African-American residents: Rowan, Elliott, Wolfe and Menifee in Eastern Kentucky, and Hancock, on the Ohio River in Western Kentucky.

He also won Henderson County, a more populous Western Kentucky county with a significantly larger black population, about 7 percent.

Longtime Morehead State University administrator Keith Kappes explains the vote in his Rowan County simply: "I think people put aside their concerns about race and religion and voted for hope.

"I think a lot of folks were motivated by the national criticism that we (residents of Appalachia) were a bunch of rednecks, that we wouldn't vote for Obama because he was black, or allegedly not a Christian," said Kappes, Morehead State's vice president for university relations. "It was sort of a 'we'll show you' attitude."

Yet while he and more than two dozen others interviewed for this story had theories about how Obama carried those few rural counties, there was no single, definitive answer.

Read the whole thing for details.

In an editorial, the C-J refuses to let the racist-apologists off the hook.

Two things are clear about race and the presidential election results in Kentucky. One is that race was a factor; the other is that it is impossible to say how much of one.


Exit polls and follow-up interviews found Kentucky voters who said that race was the principal basis for their vote, and the majority of those votes went Republican.

Moreover, a New York Times study shows that many of Kentucky's rural and Appalachian counties voted more heavily for the GOP ticket this year than in 2004. Given the staggering percentage of voters who believe the country is on the wrong track, it would be hard to explain such an outcome without at least some reference to racial bias.


The most important statistic about the racial vote may lie in national polling that showed that white voters who rejected Mr. Obama on grounds of race tended to fall in older, poorer and less educated segments of the electorate.

The concentration of such voters in this state should raise concerns that the gap between the Kentucky of the future and 21st Century America will widen. That would be harmful, and that is what we should be talking about as we parse the election returns.

When Kentuckians vote overwhelmingly to re-elect Barack Obama in 2012, it will prove only that eventually, even Kentuckians can figure out how to vote in their own best interest.

It will not, however, indicate whether we have beaten sense into the concrete skulls of either our antediluvian racists or our incompetent state Democratic Party "leaders."

Cross-posted at They Gave Us A Republic ....