Political Animal


October 28, 2012 11:42 AM The Affirmative Action Myth

By Simon van Zuylen-Wood

John Sununu recently told CNN that Colin Powell only endorsed President Obama out of racial solidarity. Implied in his comments is the conservative trope that Obama is something of an ‘affirmative action president.’ Both viewpoints rely on the same morsel of logic: He only got here because he’s black.

The affirmative-action argument is all over the place: in Donald Trump’s renewed calls for Obama’s college transcript; in jokes about Obama’s inability to speak without a teleprompter; dog-whistled by Karl Rove; and spelled out overtly in conservative newspapers and blogs. It’s the same rationale that subtly undergirds the wild success of Edward Klein’s book “The Amateur,” and perhaps even the popular notion that Mitt Romney’s corporate background suggests job-creating potential Obama doesn’t have: many Americans don’t think Obama looks the part.

In light of a new poll released today—“Majority in US Hold Racist Views,” the headline reads— the vitriol seems more laughable than ever. The key finding, more or less unchanged from 2008: “By virtue of racial prejudice, Obama could lose 5 percentage points off his share of the popular vote.”

If Obama wins the election, it’ll be in spite of popular sentiment about his race, not because of it.

Simon van Zuylen-Wood is a writer for Philadelphia Magazine.


  • Bo on October 28, 2012 12:05 PM:

    As much as it pains me to admit it, President Obama's election did not result in a post-racial nation. If anything, it solidified and surfaced the subtle racism that has never been addressed.

    Unfortunately, it is those who see and understand this who are somehow blamed for "playing the race card" when all we are really doing is stating the obvious.

    The real danger in this is not the racism itself but the fact that is being effectively manipulated by the teabaggRs and GOPers to obscure the achievements of this administration and deflect attention from the blatantly implausible Romney/Ryan tax and economic plans which are nothing more than pure vaporware.

    The only basis the GOPers have to "sell" their vaporware is to portray Obama as a socialist, Marxist, liberal, blah, blah, blah. Nothing could be further from the truth but, as long as their characterization fits with a baked-in anti-Obama tenor fueled by racism, a large portion of the population uncritically accept it as true.

  • monica on October 28, 2012 12:07 PM:

    As a middle class African-American woman in the midst of losing friends over their newly revealed motivations during this election, might I say...duh!!!

  • Bo on October 28, 2012 12:07 PM:

    Oh, yes, and I forgot to add:

    John Sununu can go fuck himself.

  • esaud on October 28, 2012 12:11 PM:

    It is sickening to see how emboldened the right wing has become in expressing overt recial bigotry and misogyny. And if Obama wins, they will only double down again, as Frank Rich noted in a Salon interview posted today.

    I have been wondering now for years, exactly what the end game is here for the Republican party. The party has been collapsing in on itself, so that formerly fringe groups (the religious nuts, the racist ditto heads, the greed heads) are pretty much the core of the party.

    How can the Republican party die, without inflicting serious damage to the rest of the country and the world? With each defeat, they get firmer in their resolve, with each victory, they pass whatever destructive measures they can muster.

  • castanea on October 28, 2012 12:25 PM:

    The endgame for the rightwing is victory in the form of an Xian nation, regardless of the fact of whether such an entity can survive in the 21st century.

    If America is ruined as a result of their attempts to establish such a nation, it will not matter to them. They will pat themselves on the back for having fought the good fight, and any destruction that befalls our country will be due entirely to liberals, Jews, Muslims, atheists, etc.

  • Mark-NC on October 28, 2012 12:25 PM:

    As a reformed Republican I can tell you that Republicans have ALWAYS been nasty people. They have always lied and cheated. When I was on that side I didn't see it or assumed that that's how that game was played.

    Clinton woke me up. I voted for Clinton (my first ever Dem vote)and my brother called me a traitor. I watched ads in local papers claiming Clinton was a failure - before he even made it to the White House.

    Nothing has changed - it's just nasty in a form that they can throw at a Black guy.

  • truthbetold on October 28, 2012 12:26 PM:

    Do conservatives, the republican party, the Tea party, right wing pundits realize that by painting the achievements of Barack Obama as the result of affirmative action that they diminish the achievement of black conservatives as well? They are in fact diminishing the achievements and accomplishments of all minorities in this country.

  • Gandalf on October 28, 2012 12:30 PM:

    esaud@12:11pm- Your absolutely right but I might add that I personally postulate that one of the reasons that people continue to vote for these tools is directly related to the previous posting by Simon here about concussions and football. Apparently there are a lot more brain damaging concussions done in the formative years of young americans than previously thought. It's the only plausable explanntion for large numbers of people voting for republicans against their own best interests.

  • Redleg on October 28, 2012 12:45 PM:

    That many of these right-wing clowns attribute Obama's successes to affirmative action rather than to Obama's intellect, motivation, and social competencies "proves" that race is a big factor in how they view Obama. People who are not deeply prejudiced don't automatically invoke affirmative action as an explanation for success.

  • Redleg on October 28, 2012 12:51 PM:

    ... and furthermore: John Sununu can go f@ck himself!

    The Media has been pretty weak in addressing the role of racial resentment in the way Obama has been treated. They have been equally feckless in documenting and calling out Romney and Republicants for the constant lies and bullshitery.

  • truthbetold on October 28, 2012 12:51 PM:

    Do conservatives, the republican party, the Tea party, right wing pundits realize that by painting the achievements of Barack Obama as the result of affirmative action that they diminish the achievement of black conservatives as well? They are in fact diminishing the achievements and accomplishments of all minorities in this country.

  • LJL on October 28, 2012 12:59 PM:

    The dirty truth about America is racism is the default American inclination. It infects not just the right but the left too. When I was active in the civil rights struggle all those years ago in the south, we whites by dint of our high mindedness and self=supposed courage assumed we had the right direct the movement. I hope the newest generation is better but, I'm afraid, the best older Americans can do is struggle against their own inherent racism.

  • Neil B on October 28, 2012 1:08 PM:

    First, I'm glad to see some ("more", I hope) attention to the odious Sununu and related attitudes and actions. I want to pass on this terrific pic I saw on Facebook:

    Formidable Republican Opposition - PERFECT! — with Larry Boehlke - Timeline Photos · Yesterday at 2:03am·
    Pic shows John Sununu, former Republican Governor of NH and Mitt Romney's campaign co-chair (likely to stay such IMHO), in valid satire, saying:


  • schtick on October 28, 2012 1:15 PM:

    Isn't it a form of affirmative action when these born into millions rich boys go to college because of their daddy's name? They would never even get to fill out the application otherwise because their IQ is lower than plantlife.

  • Renai on October 28, 2012 1:24 PM:

    Thank you LJL, for another "both parties do it". How about we realize it's a matter of "all humans do it" but in this country those who tend to lean left at least make efforts to overcome their base nature and conscientiously work toward a more level playing field for all people.

    I'm sick of party against party, this ugliness is far outside such limitations. Too many in our nation have given their humanity over simplified instinctive nature rather than the harder work of conscious consideration. Thus, civilization moves backward yet again.

  • pontormo on October 28, 2012 1:27 PM:

    Gee-there is resentment and racism at large in the country and the republicans have been stoking it for political gain.
    What an insight.
    These weekend entries have become absurd.

  • c u n d gulag on October 28, 2012 1:35 PM:

    The only reason the South isn't some insane dytopian land of horribly deformed inbred monsters, is that a lot of Northerners started to move down to the land of heat, humidity, racism, and misogyny - in other words: Dixieland!

    Without our chromosomes, their gene pool would be a toxic swamp.

    It'll be too late for me, but eventually the South will become a more acceptable place for people who have brains and empathy.

  • Prior Mil on October 28, 2012 1:35 PM:

    schtick, isn't that a nicely ignored little fact, almost as ignored as all those rich kids being deferred from going to war, because the seed of rich loins deserved to be saved, Mitt Romney case in point.

    As it was during the administration of one such deferred kid that vets got such shoddy treatment at VA hospitals.

  • Joe Friday on October 28, 2012 1:36 PM:

    Good grief.

    On 'Meet the Republicans', David Gregory pushing an OLD poll taken BEFORE the last debate, by the RightWing Akron Beacon Journal newspaper, showing a 49% tie in Ohio.


  • Renai on October 28, 2012 1:46 PM:

    I hate to add to your troubles, gulag, but I just moved from South to high North. See very little difference in the conservative mindset up here than I saw down there.

    Fox News and Talk Radio and those "Christian" shows like Focus on the Family blanket our nation. They've pulled open the ugly doors that have been forced shut in past years and should have stayed closed, but for the impact such manipulative contents are proving to have in recentalizing power back into the hands of the ever-hungry ever-dissatified Rovian Clan.

  • jjm on October 28, 2012 2:03 PM:

    How many brown faces have you seen at Romney rallies? He isn't even trying for the usual token few to be prominently displayed in the background.

    Why not? Because Romney's campaign has only one (tacit) theme: "Vote for the white guy; the non-whites are coming after us!"

    (P. S. I noticed this more or less absence of darker skinned people in Romney's rallies, or photos thereof, right from the start. I thought it meant that no matter what he actually said or proposed, his entire campaign was about white power. I think I'm right.)

  • c u n d gulag on October 28, 2012 2:14 PM:

    Yeah, I hate to admit you're right.

    I lived my whole life in NY State, except for 9 years in NC. And, outside of of NYC, Albany, and other urban and suburban areas, NY is Alabama with nastier winters.

  • Kathryn on October 28, 2012 2:31 PM:

    Suspect the conservative mindset in the north is just as odious north or south, as Renai states, but I do believe it is less main stream. That is not to say that there are not enclaves and substantial percentages of haters north of the Mason Dixon line. It is also obvious to me that an African-American president is subject to quicker skepticism and criticism than a white one and not just by obvious bigots either, see writings TaNehsi Coates in the Atlantic. Some of that has seeped into all of us I fear, taken up by our roots unconsciously.

    The rot of slavery permeates our culture and I don't expect to live long enough to see substantial improvement. Not a great believer in heaven or hell but, if anyone should burn for all eternity, it's Limbaugh, Rove, Hannity, Tony Perkins, all the right wing preachers of hate and let's not forget Wayne LaPierre and Ted Nugent. Agree with Mark-NC, on nature of Republicans, election of Obama just made it more obvious and impossible to ignore. Excellent and thoughtful comments all, by the way.

  • emjayay on October 28, 2012 2:46 PM:

    Kind of like PA,only it's worse. That's why they call it Pennsyltucky. Or in California - coastal vs. Valley.

    Old story - I was in Northampton, MA, the western MA capital of colleges-dominated liberalism and feminism and lesbianism. I stopped at the WalMart, not far from the center of town. Most of the shoppers did not look like they were from Northampton. Fat, very unhiply dressed, front teeth missing, babies crying, three or four people outside the doors smoking. When I got back to my sister's house, I said "Wow, I was at WalMart and...." and my sister said "Where did all those people come from?"

    Even at my government workplace in NYC there are some people, even some of the more local or long time local ones, who are intelligent, witty, good people, and also far right reactionaries.

    The difference is who is in the majority. In NYC and my workplace, the reactionaries (WHO ARE WORKING FOR THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT) are around out gay people like me and other spawn of Satan. And they do not define the culture of the workplace, or the state.

  • emjayay on October 28, 2012 3:00 PM:

    Once again, two commenters simultaneously make the same sort of point.

    There are other reasons why "the South isn't some insane dystopian land of horribly deformed inbred monsters." The rest of the country intervened with a big war and imposed (for a while) adherence to some of the values the country was founded on. Then in the 30's the rest of the country insisted on getting them electicity and libraries and temporary jobs etc. Then employed them as soldiers and sent them to college. And a century after the big war, the rest of the country, this time without a war, again ganged up and made them behave properly in some areas.

    But Kathryn is right. National media, first radio in the 20's and 30's plus later TV and now internet have given the retards effective ways to poison the minds of the rest of the country.

  • Anonymous on October 28, 2012 3:25 PM:

    The AP article on racism only summarized and described the kind of research they was done. Probably a fairly scientific survey, but hard to make a judgement given what information available. It seems like assessing what is more of an attitude is more open to interpretation than assessing opinions.

    If I was asked whether black or white or hispanic or Asian students are as a whole more successful in high school, I would say white and Asian, based on grades and graduation rates. That isn't racism, it's making a generalization based on objective facts. So it would be interesting to actually see the whole actual survey in order to make some sort of conclusion about the results. Not that I'm arguing with those results. No doubt they did not ask that sort of question.

    The part where they showed pictures was more clever and subtle and psychological and no doubt very revealing of attitudes.

    As ususal, the Yahoo News comments on the AP article do indeed reveal the pervasive general ignorance and racism of way too many Americans. As the generally horrifying Yahoo News comments so often do. Of course not apparently haven taken Psychology 101, commenters addressing the picture part of the test of course thought that was a bunch of garbage, along with every thing else about it.

  • Leopold Von Ranke on October 28, 2012 3:57 PM:

    Su-nu-nu (n. adj.) suh 'noo noo. The hind quarters of a horse, over the legs, the tail being the most prominent part, visually, but associated with a certain distinct and disagreeable smell.

  • Hue and Cry on October 28, 2012 4:03 PM:

    I know I lost a long-term friendship with a person who shocked me a couple years back by quoting Glen Beck, saying she agreed with him. A psychologist, in fact. All of the conspiracy theories that he spun about the president and black Americans were true to her heart. We can't even have dinner together. Then she'd say how her pastor forbids the congregation to vote for the president.
    Total crazy talk from an educated professional living in an urban area in the Northeast.

  • anon on October 28, 2012 4:14 PM:

    Isn't Sununu part, ( gasp!!!!), Arabic, ( ahem-one of "those people", i.e., not "white")?

  • rick on October 28, 2012 4:40 PM:

    We're big Oh Tees
    my clan an' me
    We hung strange fruit
    on southern trees
    Don't want no
    muslim chimpanzee
    Givin' them their
    things for free
    We're big Oh Tees
    my boys an' me
    Dream on, dream on

    We're Bible thumpin' hypocrits
    We wave the flag to cover it
    States rights - born an' raised
    Still land of the free
    an' home of the slave

  • Kathryn on October 28, 2012 5:30 PM:

    Wow, hue and cry, just wow. Hope everybody was able to access Col. Lawrence Wilkerson comment on Ed Show and Bill Maher's final comments on Friday. I found both on the Huff Post yesterday.

  • N.Wells on October 28, 2012 8:31 PM:

    The Republicans have stoked more overt racism in the last four years than in the last couple of decades, but nonetheless (a) America has always had a wide streak of racism yet (b) it has managed to elect a biracial guy as president, which simply was not possible until now. Even if Obama's election wouldn't have happened without Bush being such an unbelievably awful president, we are on the whole well ahead of where we were in terms of racism, and it's going to be difficult to regress significantly.

  • Renai on October 28, 2012 9:55 PM:

    So we're going to bracket a decent black president with two unbelievably awful presidents to punish the country for daring to be so "modern".

    Voting for Mitt Romney is the equivalent of shooting your own foot completely off because you don't like the color of your sock.