JOHN BRUMMETT: It's circumstantial

Posted: November 9, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

The problem with pointing out the circumstantial evidence that racism is a factor in the post-Obama reddening of Arkansas is that every person in the state who voted Republican for president from 2008 onward will think you just called him or her a racist.

But you didn't. You merely made a macro observation, not a micro one. You invoked elements within the whole of the electorate, not attitudes within the individual.


So, let me hasten to say what should go without saying, which is that, of course, you could have voted for John McCain, Mitt Romney and Donald Trump for president without being a racist.

I do not know you or your heart. I suspect you turned Republican because you'd been leaning that way for years but chose to stay with Democrats longer than you would have stayed with them otherwise because of Bill Clinton's favorite-son presidency.

I suspect that, post-Clinton, you felt Democrats simply no longer represented your views on guns, abortion, taxes, law enforcement issues, populist economic issues and what you consider family values, and which I call cultural or social issues.

I believe working-class resentment is part of this socioeconomic and cultural mix. I can see the point of J.D. Vance, the Hillbilly Elegy author. He said it was less a factor for poor, white working people that Barack Obama was black than that he seemed elitist. It's that he condescended to and insulted you by saying you clung to guns and religion because you didn't have anything else going for you.

Then you thought Hillary Clinton made the same slur when she spoke of "deplorables," though she didn't. She was talking about Bannonites, white supremacists, hate groups. But she spoke recklessly, always trouble in a presidential race, and you heard what you heard and you cannot un-hear it.

You went with Trump because he understood your resentment, or at least talked like he did, and even lip service was better than no service. If you harbor resentments, it's better, I guess, to field attempts at exploitation rather than endure slights, perceived or otherwise.

Today's context is that the New Yorker ran a piece this week on Tom Cotton that sought, among other things, to explain why Arkansas made such a seemingly sudden move to Republicanization in the last six to eight years.

I was quoted as saying the state had been moving that way for some time, but had been Democrat-sustained by Clinton, and that Obama's election opened the floodgate. Two other Arkansas sources went beyond where I chose to stop, saying the floodgates opened because Obama was black.

I referred in the beginning to circumstantial evidence. It's statistical circumstantial evidence.

First, there is the matter of a famous map produced by the New York Times the day in November 2008 after Obama historically won the presidency over McCain by nearly 10 million votes and with an electoral landslide of 365 to 173.

Four years before, the Democratic candidate, John Kerry, had lost narrowly to George W. Bush. Obviously, Obama far outperformed Kerry--except, as it conspicuously happened, in one strip on that map. The losing Kerry did better than the winning Obama along that strip that began in West Virginia and dipped across Kentucky and into Tennessee and then across Arkansas into Oklahoma.

Those are white rural areas all.

If those white rural voters were color-blind and merely resentful of Obama's elitism, why would they give him even fewer votes than they gave Kerry, a white Bostonian wind-surfer wed to a Heinz heiress? Kerry had an "F" from the NRA even though, as he told me in a brief interview that year, he had hunted woodchucks.

If you voted for Kerry but not Obama, as about 47,000 in Arkansas did, and if race wasn't the difference, then please email me at the address below and tell me the reason.

Consider, also, these Arkansas presidential results since 1992 as compiled by a Washington Monthly blogger Tuesday in an analysis of the New Yorker article: 1992--plus-17.7 points for Clinton; 1996--plus-16.9 for Clinton; 2000--plus-5.4 for Bush; 2004--plus-9.7 for Bush; 2008--plus-19.9 for McCain; 2012--plus-23.7 for Romney; 2016--plus-26.9 for Trump.

There are two large abrupt changes--one toward the Republican after Clinton left office and then one further toward the Republican when Obama was on the ballot as the Democrat.

The obvious explanation for the first is that the state had been holding artificially to blue status because of the home-state Democratic president. An obvious explanation for the second--not the explanation, but an explanation--is that somebody in Arkansas--not, you, I'm sure--had a complexion-based aversion to Obama.

It's all guesswork, but I'd stipulate in our state's defense--if you could call it a defense--that racism doesn't appear to be decisive. The state was going from blue to red without the black.

The race factor is literally marginal.

------------v------------

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was inducted into the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 11/09/2017