Who’s Afraid for Obama?


Publish Date:
January 8, 2008
Publication Title:
Slate, January 8, 2008
Op-Ed or Opinion Piece
  • Richard Thompson Ford, Who's Afraid for Obama? Slate, January 8, 2008.


Professor Richard Thompson Ford wrote an opinion piece in Slate about questions around Barack Obama’s “electability”:

Ever since he threw his hat into the presidential ring, some liberals have worried that Barack Obama is unelectable. This country, they say, simply isn’t ready for a black president. Ultimately, the concern that Obama can’t win because he’s black says a lot more about the people who voice it than it does about the electorate it purportedly describes. So, who are these people, and what’s really behind their anxiety?

It’s tempting to say the “electability” worry is a pretext for people who really oppose Obama due to their own racial prejudices, and I’m sure that’s true in some cases. But it’s the folks who worry for Obama for his own good who are most fascinating. Lots of black people have said they think Obama can’t win and others—predominantly from the Southeastern states—have gone further and said they’ll vote against him to “protect” him from the inevitable assassination attempts that will dog a black president.

I find it hard to take this rather appalling paternalism seriously, but if it is a pretext, then what is going on in the minds of these defeatists? I suspect there are three distinct reasons for Obama fatalism among liberals of all races: false realism, once-bitten timidity, and investment-in-oppression…