Election Issue 2008 | Would Utahns Elect a Black President? 

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For a state that boasts the inventors of the Obama sock monkey, Chris Buttars’ 19th-century racial sensitivities and a gaffe by Salt Lake County Council candidate Paul Pugmire, it isn’t a stretch to wonder how race might affect the presidential vote in Utah. It’s certainly talked about elsewhere—a Yahoo-Associated Press poll in September determined that 40 percent of Americans hold at least a partially negative view of blacks. City Weekly asked a conservative and a liberal to weigh in on race and the choice for president in Utah.
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nBring Utah a Conservative Black Candidate, and We’ll Elect Him.
nIf the question is, “Should Barack Obama’s race or ethnicity matter to Utah voters?” the answer is clearly “No.” Even if the question is, “Will Obama’s race or ethnicity matter to Utah voters?” the answer remains clearly “No.” If Obama has problems connecting with Utah voters, it will be because 1. His economic policies are authentically socialist (which is even worse than the “capitalist socialism” of the some-American-businesses-are-more-important-than-others variety), 2. His social policies, such as gay rights and abortion, are repugnant to Latter-day Saints, and 3. His foreign policies are more naïve than President Jimmy Carter’s, the worst president in U.S. history. Hence, Utahns will feel safer with Sen. John McCain at the helm.
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I think the question itself, while not intended this way, is offensive to Utahns. Does race matter in national politics? Obviously not. Congressional seats fit their constituent demographics. Does race matter in Utah politics? Obviously not. State and local seats fit their constituent demographics. The better question would be, “Why does any sane person think the average Utah voter would choose an inexperienced liberal community activist as his or her next president of the United States?”

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An interesting test of the “race issue” hypothesis in Utah would include having a more moderate or conservative African-American on a presidential ticket. For instance, how would Utahns react to Colin Powell running for president? Or former Congressman J.C. Watts? My guess is that Utahns would welcome those men to a presidential ticket. Looking the other direction, what if Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton were running for president? The answer is obvious for Utahns. Race and ethnicity, no doubt, have effects on some individual voters, but as a people, none.

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By Paul Mero
nPaul Mero is executive director of The Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank in Salt Lake City.

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Race matters. It’s Written in our History and Even our Constitution
nMinutes after Colin Powell, a highly respected African-American four-star general, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the 65th secretary of state under President George W. Bush, endorsed Illinois Sen. Barack Obama—and not his Republican rival, Arizona’s Senator John McCain—the Republican Powell’s endorsement was attacked as “racist.”

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Ironically, the most vocal criticism came from ultra-conservative, cigar smoking, toxic radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who immediately launched an investigation to find out how many “inexperienced, very liberal, white candidates he [Powell] has endorsed.” Not surprisingly, Limbaugh’s “findings” confirmed his deeply held belief: Powell’s endorsement was driven by the fact that Obama is a black man. In other words, to quote Limbaugh: “it was totally about race”—the American signifier of irreducible difference and otherness. While an angry critic called Powell, who holds the Presidential Service Badge and two Distinguished Service medals, a “moderate black racist,” McCain campaign manager Rick Davis called into question Powell’s political acumen.

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Yes, Mr. Limbaugh, by design and accident, American life is and has always been “totally about race,” despite our historical willingness to glance away in self-imposed blindness, denial and disingenuous patriotism. Pardon the pun, but the pot cannot call the kettle black in this instance. In fact, race was woven into this great nation’s very foundation. Colonial documents celebrating America as a “city upon a hill” or a great “melting pot” are replete with notions and issues of race, otherness and marginalization. For example, even our most sacred document, the U.S. Constitution, initially defined Blacks as 3/5 “Other.” Yes, the word “other” actually appears in the Constitution. Race mattered then and it continues to matter now, as the 2008 election confirms.

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Blacks are proud of Obama, who represents their highest values and expectations. In the end, what we—Americans who are unconditionally committed to the sacred values and principles of this country—should be about at this incredible historical juncture is the truly unabashed, indestructible and, above all, objective meaning and signification of the core idealism of American democracy. This democracy allows a citizen, Barack Hussein Obama, to not only have the audacity to believe he can serve his country well but also as a proud American and the very best we have to offer.

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By Wilfred Samuels
nWilfred Samuels is an associate professor of ethnic studies and English at the University of Utah.

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