Live webcast with Michael Dawson

Ask UChicago with Professor Michael Dawson
Wednesday, November 2 at 11am

Watch and participate in the live Q&A! webcast.

What is the future of black politics? Political scientist Michael Dawson’s research on political beliefs could help African Americans seek solutions to inequalities. Join Dawson for a Q&A discussion of his recent research, his new book, the pending presidential election, and other topics relevant to the African American community and all who follow politics.

Neoliberalism and black politics?

Has neoliberal ideology among black elites narrowed our conceptions of what’s possible in black politics as well as our focus on means to electoral politics & lobbying? If so, is this a good or bad development for blacks’ quest for social justice?

You can see more of Dawson’s argument in his new book, Not in Our Lifetimes.

He’s Black.

Is Obama Black, Bi-racial, or Post-racial? Michael answers in a Zócalo Public Square chat.

President Obama is black. That is certainly how the vast majority of Americans from all racial groups view him. Unfortunately, it is also how increasingly shrill political opponents portray him, as they attempt to discredit the President using the vilest racial stereotypes. The increasingly racialized rhetoric surrounding the President, much of which borders on outright racism, reinforces the reality that for African Americans in particular, as many sociologists have shown, the “one-drop rule” still applies. Ironically, despite the brutal racialized discourse that surrounds the President, his multi-racial heritage as well as his success in being elected President is used as evidence of America’s evolution into a post-racial society.

See the full discussion.

Severe Hardship, Dashed Hopes

Michael’s take on how budget cuts will change the black middle class, in Room for Debate at the New York Times.

We are entering a period when for blacks there is a dangerous and growing confluence of severe economic hardship and dashed hopes.

It is no coincidence that during the economic crisis there has been a steep decline in blacks’ hopes for racial equality. Historically, the foundation for black income gains in the middle 20th century were based not only on the movement of what had been a largely Southern agrarian population into unionized manufacturing jobs, but also a parallel movement of blacks into the public sector — a sector that saw far smaller income disparities by race than the private sector.

See the full discussion.

Marable’s Malcolm X Book Puts Icon in Context

The controversial biography places the slain Muslim leader firmly in the black nationalist tradition — with all its contradictions, says this reviewer.

Posted at The Root.

Manning Marable was never a dogmatist. While he had his own strong point of view, he was respectful of, and attentive to, those who disagreed. Marable’s last legacy is Malcolm X: A Life Reinvented, published just five days after he died. Marable courageously examined the contradictions and unanswered questions in the various accounts — including Malcolm’s own — of Malcolm X’s life and political agenda.

The Real Deal on The New Deal

If anyone should be skeptical of New Deal policies, it should be black folks, not Republicans.

Posted at The Root.

It is often forgotten that, for all of its benefits, the New Deal reinforced structural black economic disadvantage in many ways. It is certainly true that the Work Projects Administration (WPA) put many blacks to work, and many blacks also benefited from the relief programs.

Class War!

The right’s uncivil war against Obama. Will it succeed?

Posted at The Root.

Sen. Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican, is horrified that President Obama has become the “world’s best salesman of socialism.” He grimly argues that conservatives will have to “take to the streets to stop America’s slide into socialism.” And if that is not alarming enough, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee has shrilly declared that the president’s policies would be loved by “Lenin and Stalin.”

Blago’s Blues

I have been very worried about the mischief that the outgoing president could engage in during his final days in office. Now, I am mortified and angered by the destruction being done to democratic (small d!) politics much closer to home.

Posted at The Root.

A few weeks ago I received a phone call from two semi-drunken friends who were at a bar on the East Coast. They demanded I write about the idiot formerly known as Gov. Rod Blagojevich. I promised to do so, but deep down I probably wanted the whole shameful situation to go away. As an Illinois native, I had always held, not necessarily convincingly, that there were states like Louisiana and Rhode Island that were far more corrupt than Illinois.

How to Watch the Returns

Here are some themes to look for while watching the returns that will determine the outcome of the election.

Originally posted at The Root.

Like millions of Americans, I’m attending an election return party with friends next Tuesday night. Thrown by one of my closest friends, I’ve been laughingly told that the only reason I’m invited is because I professionally study American politics. What she should know is that political scientists are not necessarily the best prognosticators due to our heads being collectively stuck either in the sand or among the clouds. I’m also a political junkie—a much sounder credential for an analyst! Wearing both hats, here are some themes to watch for while watching the returns that will determine the fate of the nation for the foreseeable future.

Battleground states are of course a key indicator to pay attention to next Tuesday. What is different this time is that the number of states that could be critical is larger, and this works to Obama’s advantage. The key state that has been in the Democratic column that McCain is trying to win is Pennsylvania. Obama is running solidly, if not comfortably ahead in Pennsylvania a week before the election. It is very bad news for Obama if Pennsylvania breaks for McCain. Colorado, Virginia, New Mexico, North Carolina, Missouri, Indiana, Florida, and Ohio are all states that have gone for Bush that are in play this time. Colorado and Virginia appear to be solidly trending toward Obama, and with Pennsylvania should be enough (with Pennsylvania) for an Obama win even without Florida and Ohio. It is also the case that an Obama win in either Ohio or Florida would represent very good news for Obama. McCain has to hold on to every state that Bush won and flip Pennsylvania to have a realistic chance of winning—possible, but at this writing very unlikely.

Uncertainty in the polling is also greater this election cycle and makes prediction somewhat more problematic than usual. There are several sources of uncertainty this time around. One factor is the extremely high level of early voting, particularly by African Americans. This has been a focus of the Obama campaign and seems to be working. It also means that exit polling might be somewhat more inaccurate in some locales (in the South for instance) if the early voting totals are not taken into account. Another source of uncertainty is how the undecided will break. One analysis suggests that while Obama has a large lead in the national popular vote, the Electoral College vote is closer due the claim that undecideds break for the white candidate when there is a white and black candidate contending. That type of analysis suggests that Obama could win the national popular vote by a large margin but lose the Electoral College—a scenario worst than that which played out in 2000. I think this analysis is wrong. My count using this methodology still has Obama in the 280s—comfortably over the 270 electoral vote threshold needed to win. It still bears paying attention to how undecideds are breaking and whether there is a last minute shift in how the polls are trending. Which brings me to the last source of uncertainty—how are the white Americans breaking whom are “uncomfortable” with the idea of a black president, but have economic interests much more in line with Obama’s than McCain’s. Reports from Pennsylvania and elsewhere anecdotally suggest that class interests are trumping racial concerns. If this trend holds, it makes the likelihood of Obama winning Pennsylvania, Florida, and/or Ohio much greater.

Control of Congress is of course another critical issue. If Obama is elected, he will need large majorities in both houses to govern effectively. In particular, if the Democrats achieve their still unlikely goal of achieving a filibuster proof 60 seat majority in the Senate, Obama would have the potential power to govern with the same power as Johnson in the mid-1960s. Only one Senate seat held by Democrats is competitive. Mary Landrieu, however, appears to have a comfortable lead and is expected to hold her seat in Louisiana. It would be bad, but not disastrous, news for the Democrats if Landrieu goes down to defeat. There are several Senate seats currently held by Republicans that either are expected to flip to the Democrats or are now considered tossups. Democrats could very well break through in North Carolina, Elizabeth Dole probably will not hold on to her seat, but even Southern seats in Mississippi, Georgia and Kentucky are beginning to make Republicans mildly nervous. If you start seeing seats in states like Georgia going to the Democrats, it portends a massive senate victory for the Democrats. A good state by state guide can be found here. Generally we should see a large increase of seats for the Democrats in the house. A net Democratic gain of at least 20 seats would represent a substantial Democratic House victory.

Attacks on the democratic process are an ongoing concern. I have already talked about the racist attacks aimed at Obama as well as attempts at vote suppression (link to Wednesday article here). A good summary of some of the possible areas of contention on election day can be found here. Charges of voter fraud by the GOP in order to suppress turnout, particularly by minorities, is escalating. The Supreme Court ruled against attempts by Ohio Republicans to make it more difficult for hundred of thousands of likely Democratic party supporters from voting. In an end run around the Supreme Court the Bush administration is attempting to use the Justice Department to intervene on the side of the Ohio GOP. Another front of GOP attacks is against the abundance of small donors (under $200) that the Obama campaign has been able to attract. This attack has yet to garner much traction, but might become a front with which to harass an Obama administration if he goes on to victory. Viewers on Tuesday should be alert to reports particularly from battleground states about substantial problems with challenges, voters being frustrated, and court challenges. These have the potential to at least cause confusion on election day.

Finally, there is always the possible of an October surprise to confound the dynamics at the end of a bitter campaign when the stakes are even higher than usual. One type of surprise takes the form of even starker attacks on a candidate. For example, the GOP is now claiming there is “new” “evidence” that Obama is a dangerous leftist (for both the charge and the debunking of the charge see here. Along a similar vein, the Republican National Committee waited until the last week of the campaign to launch an ad that once again tries to tie Senator Obama to Reverend Wright. As one commentator suggested, we knew this was coming. More traditional, is a major foreign policy crisis that emerges or manufactured on election eve. Unprecedented, deadly and dangerous U.S. military incursions into Syria could be seen in this light. The basic electoral dynamics in this election suggest that even an “October surprise” is unlikely to reverse the basic strong trend indicating an Obama victory.

Michael C. Dawson is the John D. MacArthur Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago.

Ugly ‘Til The End

McCain and his surrogates have shown that nothing is beyond the pale in their desperate effort to derail Obama.

Posted at The Root.

Half a century ago, Malcolm X warned that when “we” started winning by their rules, “they” would change the rules. The desperate and despicable tactics of the McCain-Palin campaign have vividly illustrated the lengths that the reactionaries who have dominated for most the last decade will go in order to maintain power. There is less than one week left, but here are some of the problems we should be monitoring. Many of these are not only a threat to Obama’s campaign, but much more importantly, a threat to a just participatory democracy and an anti-racist civil society. Even if Obama does win, which I fully expect, there is a real danger that long-lasting damage has been done to the American polity by some of the reactionary tactics of the GOP.