What’s really going on in this election?

obamacheesehead.jpgIt looks like my candidate of choice, Barack Obama, sailed to an easy victory over Hillary Clinton tonight in the Wisconsin primary. That’s good news, as far as I’m concerned. I’m also glad to see John McCain taking a decisive victory over Mike Huckabee (sorry, I refuse to provide a link), even though I still find it disturbing that 37% of the voters in the Republican primary were willing to support a candidate who proudly professes his disbelief in evolution. I don’t really want McCain to win the general election, and I know he’ll pose a much tougher challenge to the Democratic nominee than any of the other Republicans could hope to, but I can live with a McCain presidency. If someone as willfully ignorant as Huckabee won, though, I might just have to move to Canada. (And that’s a promise I couldn’t even keep when Bush got re-elected.)

When I saw that Huckabee 37% number, I also noticed the stunning disparity in total number of Democratic vs. Republican voters in said primary:

Wisconsin primary results, 2/19/2008
Source: MSNBC

I know Democrats have been turning out in higher numbers than Republicans this year, and that Wisconsin, although generally considered a “battleground” state, has tended to lean ever-so-slightly left or, if you must, “blue.” But still, this is a huge difference: Hillary Clinton, the decisive loser in the Democratic race, garnered more than twice the number of votes as the winner of the Republican race.

Tally up the total number of votes (with 92% of precincts reporting), and the Democrats had nearly 1,000,000 votes, while the Republicans just scraped above 370,000.

Again, I’m sure there are several contributing factors that increased this year’s Democratic turnout (and decreased Republican turnout), but I think we should not gloss over the fact that the electorate is skewing this strongly to the Democrats. I would have to do some research on how primary voting has split between the parties in past elections before coming to any grandiose (or paranoid) conclusions about all of this, but for now I will just make a mental note of the state of affairs here in February, and compare results come November.

If everyone’s white, do you even realize the racism is there?

Sundown TownsI’ve probably mentioned here before that I grew up in Austin, Minnesota, a.k.a. Spamtown USA. Of course I noticed growing up that there were few if any African-Americans in town, but it had never occurred to me that there might once have been, and I was never told of any racial conflicts that had ever taken place.

In fact, race (at least the black/white divide) was almost a non-existent concept in my childhood. In the ’80s there were quite a few people in town of Asian descent, mostly refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, which was a source of its own kind of tension, but I’m sure I was at least 10 before I saw a black person in real life (although by then I knew Gordon, Susan, David and Olivia from Sesame Street quite well).

I’m not sure if I had ever even heard the term sundown town until today, when I happened to be searching online for something completely unrelated about Austin, and I was even more surprised to learn about a disturbing incident that took place in my hometown in 1922.

These days racial tension is going strong in Austin, due in large part to changes that have taken place in the economic environment of the city. So race is mixed up, along with economic class, immigration and labor union issues, into a complex and for the most part poorly-understood stew of thinly-veiled hatred, anger and frustration on every side.

I guess it just goes to show that the history of race relations in this country is far more complicated and troubled than many of us even know. In an election year where, for the first time, both a woman and an African-American have a real chance of becoming our next president, it’s important to reflect on how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go.