Newsweek's Alter Insists: Only Racism Could Prevent President Obama

October 27th, 2008 7:04 AM

America’s either racist, or it will elect Obama. So writes Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter, who focuses in his weekly column on imagining the "horror" scenario, titled "Why McCain Won: Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory: how that scenario could (but likely won't) play out." Alter’s theory in a nutshell: If McCain wins, racism is the answer. "Millions of people in the rest of the world assume that Barack Obama cannot be elected because he is black," but Alter hopes "the common sense and decency of the American people will prove the skeptics wrong."

It sounds a little like Bryant Gumbel, who declared in 1989 that his NBC News special on racial attitudes "is not going to tell you whether or not you are a racist or a liberal." Alter thinks less educated (and more racist) voters will be the difference if Obama loses:

In the end, the problem was the LIVs. That's short for "low-information voters"...Their allegiance to a candidate is as easily shed as a T-shirt. Several million moved to Obama through September and October; they'd heard he handled himself well in the debates. Then, in the last week, the LIVs swung back to the default choice: John McCain. Some had good reasons other than the color of Obama's skin to desert him; many more did not. In October, a study by the Associated Press estimated that Obama's race would cost him 6 percent. The percentage was smaller, but still enough to give the presidency to McCain.

...As it turned out, the real problem wasn't south Florida, where Hispanics came in surprisingly well for Obama. It was erosion in the critical I-4 corridor near Tampa and in the Panhandle, where the astonishing Republican margins among whites could be attributed only to race.

...But there was a reason Virginia hadn't gone Democratic since 1964. The transformation of the northern part of the state couldn't overcome a huge McCain margin among whites farther south. They weren't the racists of their parents' generation, but they weren't quite ready to vote for the unthinkable, either.

Alter can’t imagine that some voters might feel that Obama doesn’t have enough experience to be president. Apparently, that’s an excuse for racism. Alter can’t imagine that some voters might feel Obama is too liberal and will damage the economy with higher taxes. That must be another excuse for deep-seated loathing of a black president. Alter concludes with exactly the kind of didactic note that makes the "news" magazines sound like they’d much rather run the country than simply write about it:

At the start of the campaign season NEWSWEEK asked, "Is America Ready" for a black president? The answer: only if Obama proved close to a flawless candidate, and even then, we won't know for sure until Election Day. That doesn't mean Obama lost because all, or even most, McCain voters allowed race to be a factor. But enough did to change the outcome.

Democrats are despairing over the results, fearing they might never view their country in the same light again. Even many Republicans are subdued at the news of McCain's victory. Having expected him to lose, they know the GOP has now completed a sorry transition from the party of Lincoln to the party of cynicism. McCain, they're reasoning, might prove a fine president, but it shouldn't have happened like this.

It probably won't. Millions of people in the rest of the world assume that Barack Obama cannot be elected because he is black. They assume that the original sin of American history – enshrined in our Constitution – cannot be transcended. I go into next week's election with a different assumption – that the common sense and decency of the American people will prove the skeptics wrong.

Newsweek's feeling about the voters -- are they idiots or will they vote for Obama? -- is based on whether they heeded Newsweek's four years of advice to get in line to support Obama. At the beginning of 2005, Alter wrote a sugary cover story on Obama, as Brent Bozell explained:

Obama was lauded as the "incredibly pragmatic" soul of civility who is "uniquely qualified to nudge the country toward the color purple" (merging the red states and blue states). He was all about "embracing our hybrid origins and transcending our often narrow-minded past."

Even back then, Alter was so in the tank for Obama he was praising the brand-new Senator's readiness for the White House with lines like "his expert grasp of foreign policy helped him bolt from the pack."