Great Expectations

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THE PLANK JULY 16, 2008

Great Expectations

Today's NYT headline: "Poll Finds Obama's Run Isn't Closing Divide on Race." The bottom line:

[E]ven as the nation crosses a racial threshold when it comes to politics--Mr. Obama, a Democrat, is the son of a black father from Kenya and a
white mother from Kansas--many of the racial patterns in society
remain unchanged in recent years.

Next thing you know, someone's going to find evidence that Obama's candidacy isn't helping to lower divorce rates, fight the obesity epidemic, or improve the National League's performance in All-Star Games. Some messiah this is!

While the story is an interesting one, most of the specific findings--e.g., the persistence of the gap between blacks and whites in perceptions of race relations, the stark divide when it comes to discrimination at work and in police stops, the lack of contact between races in people's daily lives--just aren't that surprising. They also aren't the kind of indicators you'd expect Obama's run to change, particularly given that media coverage of the campaign so far focused heavily on racial tensions exposed by the Democratic primary. Obama may or may not end up being a figure who can help reverse these social trends 400 years in the making, but the fact that it hasn't happened less than two months after his clinching the nomination will come as a revelation only to people who take seriously factual claims like these.

--Josh Patashnik

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