Tom Foreman | Bio
Sometimes, even in the jaded world of been-there-done-that journalism, when I’m flipping through the headlines with a world-weary glance, I still see something that makes my eyes pop like a cartoon character. And this week it is a Rasmussen poll addressing this thorny issue of race and politics.
Or I suppose I should say it’s thorny if you see it that way.
Let me explain. The Rasmussen folks posed a question to the effect of: Do you think opposition to President Obama’s health care reform plan is based on racism? 88 percent of Republicans and 78 percent of unaffiliated voters said “No way.” But among Democrats that number plummeted to just 39 percent. The poll goes on to say that 22 percent of them take it much farther, saying the opposition to health care reform is primarily racist, and the rest of the Dems at least suspect that could be so.
In simple terms: Many Republicans and independents say health care reform is in trouble because people don’t trust the policy. Many Democrats say it’s because Barack Obama is black.
It is impossible to prove which perspective is correct. Race is one of those incredibly dicey areas in which people are hesitant to reveal their true feelings. It’s kind of like surveys about infidelity. There is always the nagging fear for the respondent that somehow the cloak of anonymity will be ripped aside, and their secret views will be exposed to the world…or in the case of infidelity, to the wife.
Make no mistake: Most voters do not believe the Obama Presidency is being unduly hurt by racist leanings, and plenty of critics have pointed out that he won the office because of enormous support from whites.
But frankly the “real truth” about whether racism is at play probably doesn’t matter much. In politics, perceptions often trump reality, and these numbers suggest the perceptions are running so deep, that they are fundamentally altering the debate.
Think about it. If you support President Obama, and believe that those who are pushing against him are doing so just because they are bigots, why would you even bother to listen to their complaints about his policies? By the same token, if you are on the other side and believe his supporters are simply screaming racism because their cause is philosophically flawed, why would you take the trouble to consider their political position?
Still, that is the fix in which we find ourselves, and there is no reason to believe it will stop with health care. But it could stop honest debate as we know it. And honest debate in D.C. is already in short supply.
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