Elections as spectator sport

When I expressed my bemusement last week at an op-ed about Hillary Clinton in the Financial Times, a friend said to me, “You should understand that it doesn’t really matter to them. It’s a spectator sport.” That applies many times over to a wrong-headed piece in Prospect from the chair of Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission, Trevor Phillips.

Phillips, one of the most prominent black political figures in Britain, is underwhelmed by Obama because, as he puts it, “a man whose African ancestors never endured transatlantic slavery has become the standard-bearer for the black presence in the US”. That, in Phillips’ view, disqualifies Obama as someone willing or able to help erase the racial divide in the US.

In truth, Obama may be helping to postpone the arrival of a post-racial America, and I think he knows it. If he wins, the cynicism may be worth it to him and his party. In the end he is a politician and a very good one; his job is to win elections. He may even beat Hillary to the nomination (though I’d be surprised). But the harbinger of a post-racial America? I don’t think so.

I think only a spectator of American politics and not a participant could be so wrong. I don’t think a post-racial country will emerge miraculously thanks to an Obama presidency. But will Obama in the White House help move the US that way? I think Phillips is utterly unconvincing.

3 thoughts on “Elections as spectator sport

  1. James R MacLean

    Thanks for this post, esp. this line: “I think only a spectator of American politics and not a participant could be so wrong.”


    I’ve been interested in European responses to our election and I understand the jaded indifference on the part of Europeans: basically the re-election (?) of Bush was seen by many as evidence that (a) the USA was irredeemable and (b) it was now morally normative to actively hate US nationals. But I’m startled at how many European periodicals have coverage that reads as if it was written by “tawdry fanatics for Hillary” (TFH) or “We’re too sneaky to entertain the possibility of a liberal president in the USA EVER AGAIN!” (WTSEPLPUEA).


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