Melissa Harris-Perry: Republicans Doing Poor Job of Using Race against Obama

In a provocative column in The Nation, Tulane professor and rising MSNBC star Melissa Harris-Perry says she is surprised by how poorly and clumsily Republicans are attempting to play the “race card” in their desperate campaign to defeat President Obama.

Harris-Perry, whose new weekend show on MSNBC is drawing legions of fans because of its brilliant and unstinting analysis of the American political scene through an African-American and female lens, writes that Republicans are making the same mistake they made in 2004 during Obama’s Senate campaign in Illinois. In that race, they ultimately recruited black conservative Alan Keyes to run against him, thinking that Keyes would siphon away black support for Obama because Keyes had a style and a background that was more familiar to the African-American community. Yet it was Obama who captured the hearts of black voters in Illinois, winning 92 percent of their vote in 2004.

So far the Republicans have tried to use Obama’s support of gay marriage as a wedge to push black voters away from him and they have considered bringing back the specter of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s former pastor in Chicago, as the scary black man who would remind white voters that Obama is very black. But they tried Wright already in 2008—for months and months—and it didn’t work, as Obama not only got 95 percent of the black vote but a larger percentage of the white vote than either Gore or Kerry got in the previous two election.

“All of this suggests that racebaiting and race-divisive tactics won’t be successful in 2012,” Harris-Perry writes. “Black voters won’t be easily divided from the first black president running against a white opponent. President Obama’s stance on marriage equality may not be shared by a majority of black voters, but it is unlikely to negate their support for his re-election. In fact, a recent Pew poll showed that 16 percent of black respondents viewed the president more favorably after his announcement, compared with 13 percent who viewed him less favorably; 68 percent said it had no impact.”

Harris-Perry concludes that it all almost makes you feel sorry for Joe Ricketts, the Chicago multimillionaire (and owner of the Chicago Cubs) who is intent on using his many millions to take Obama down using any means necessay.

“He’s got tens of millions to spend in his crusade to defeat the president,” she writes, “and he’s getting pitched ideas that even casual observers recognize as yesterday’s failed strategies.”

Back to top