The Greatest


Obama’s Race:
The 2008 Election and the Dream of a Post-Racial America

By: David O. Sears

David O. Sears, an accomplished researcher of political and social psychology, is the most cited singular author in many Google Scholar searches. Tesler, on the other hand, has just begun his legacy as an influential historian of racial history.

Race is Not a Black and White Issue

By: Keithane Tran

For centuries, Americans looked to the president as a leader, a patriot, and a common man. From George Washington’s unanimous election in 1775 to George W. Bush’s charisma and man-of-the-hour personality in an era of terror, American leaders shared a trait with themselves and the people they led: pale skin. With 43 presidents lined up, all white and aged, imagine the uproar if the 44th president was black. Nearing the end of the Bush administration, Illinois senator, Barack Obama, takes the spotlight - and the criticism. With his announcement of running, supposedly dead racial tensions rise in protest of an African American president. Assistant professor of political science at UCLA, Michael Tesler, and Michael O. Sears, a renown professor of psychology and political science, collaborate on Obama’s Race: The 2008 Election and the Dream of a Post-Racial America to analyze the implications of race in the 2008 presidential race. With the rising popularity of a potential black candidate for the White House comes the rising racial opinions. Even though some African Americans do not consider him “black enough,” being the son of a white mother and a Kenyan father, Obama looks the part to racist whites.1 Obama’s Race balances the festering prejudice with Obama’s efforts to maintain a race-neutral campaign.

In order to expose the racial attitudes during the election, Tesler and Sears begin by recounting key events in American history that develop black racism and elaborate on the evolution of racial prejudice from “old fashioned” to “symbolic” racism.1 In their introduction, Tesler regales readers in Obama’s senatorial legacy as a green political figure growing in popularity. Obama first earns recognition while addressing the insubstantial trauma relief forces aiding Hurricane Katrina survivors. While many African Americans assume that “the federal response to the Katrina-induced suffering in New Orleans would have been faster if most of the victims had been white,”2 Obama takes a firm stand on the incredulity on the racialized attitude, arguing that the Bush administration would not discriminate by skin color, but rather by the fact that New Orleans is a lower-class community. In 2007, when Obama announces his running in the 2008 presidential election, racial outcries roared sporadically across the nation. Tesler and Sears end their introduction with a summary of Obama’s Race, listing their key discoveries on the racial elements that influenced the 2008 election that are covered in the eight chapters of Obama’s Race. In Chapter One: “Background,” Tesler and Sears denote key events that hurled racism into the modern era, such as Lincoln’s emancipation of slaves, Reconstruction, and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. The authors also describe how the dire schism between liberals and conservatives and the shift from liberal Republicans to liberal Democrats in the 1960’s and vice-versa further create a divide in the two parties’ beliefs. Tesler notes that liberal Democrats tend to run on pro-civil rights platforms, such as equal treatment for blacks, while conservative Republicans ignored prevalent racial issues.3 Refocusing on the spectrum of racism, Sears remarks that old-fashioned racism is the outdated belief that whites hold genetic, intellectual, and athletic supremacy. This form of racial prejudice rampaged through the Jim Crow era after Reconstruction. However, while old-fashioned racism primarily festers in the South now, a newer form of racism seeps into modern America: symbolic racism. This particular form of racism comprises of beliefs that minorities- Tesler focuses on black, however- are at fault for their poor economic conditions. Such beliefs followed four basic themes: 1) Blacks are no longer discriminated, therefore should not be given special treatment, 2) They are only disadvantaged by their poor work ethic, 3) They are asking for too much, and 4) They received more than they deserve.4 In Chapter Two: “Racial Momentum,” Sears focuses on the rate of the festering racism and its effects on American opinion of presidential runner, Barack Obama. For instance, Tesler and Sears discuss the Bradley Effect on Obama’s polls versus his ballot box results. The Bradley Effect, named after a black politician faced with racial predispositions, explains a phenomenon where politicians of color do significantly worse in the ballot box than they did in the polls.5 Researchers hypothesize that while asked in a poll, white voters will approve of a black candidate, but in the privacy of the ballot box, racism rears it’s ugly head. One man of Obama’s life, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, exclaims the racial injustice that Obama faces and curses at the prejudice of a white person for not understanding the position minorities fall into. Despite Obama’s efforts to maintain a race-neutral election, incidents like Reverend Wright’s outcries render his attempts futile. Racism did not only affect those resentful of a black candidate, but firm supporters of said candidate were empowered by these attitudes. While racial conservatives composed of what Tesler calls the “racially resentful” refuse to have a black president for his difference in outward appearance, racial liberals composed of the “racially sympathetic” that stand strong to support an African American president.6 A study on the racial influence on deciding between Clinton and Obama as the Democratic runner shows that the racially sympathetic democrats supported Obama, while the racially resentful supported Clinton, even though the two shared many views on broad issues and topics. These chapters expose the racial profiling Barack Obama undergoes by every American, for better or worse.

Chapter Three: “The General Election” covers the overall attitudes toward Barack Obama in the election, while Chapter Four: “The Spillover of Racialization” discusses the after-effects of the racial attitudes after Obama wins the election. Despite the racial polarization of vote preferences in the 2008 election outweighed that of any election since Reagan’s era, both Barack Obama and John McCain worked together to prevent racism from influencing said votes. Many analysts conclude that Obama won the election and overcame the racially resentful Americans through overwhelming support from racially sympathetic liberals, receiving more votes from racial liberals than any Democratic front-runner in recent times.7 Furthermore, the drastic change in racial support as well as dissent also sheds light on the growing attention to race, particularly to the first black President of the United States. For instance, during his campaign, Obama vowed to end high-income tax cuts, a tax policy adopted by the Bush administration-note: also a Republican policy. However, when a black Democrat begins to combat the policy with his redistribution policy, Republicans tie racist connections to Obama’s policy.8 A common policy spearheaded by a non-white politician shifts into a racial issue. Not only does Obama’s tax policy butt heads with Bush’s current tax policy, it clashes with middle and upper-class whites who benefit from the tax cuts in place. Therefore, a group of empowered white Americans can bastardize a rivaling tax policy into some abhorred disaster born of racial partisanship. Not only do these racial attitudes blow Obama’s reputation as the first black POTUS out of proportions, they exacerbate simple political and governmental actions into issues of racial implications. Such predispositions will, Tesler says, “become increasingly polarized by racial attitudes in the years ahead” if Obama takes a strong position on controversial policies.9 Well, as time will show, Tesler spoke true.

Chapter Five and Chapter Six argue how the support of minorities and gender traditionalists supplemented Obama’s campaign. In a sense, Obama stands, not only as a black candidate, but a paragon of hope for other minorities. Racism does not affect blacks only. Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, and even some distinct white ethnicities face some sort of racial discrimination and to different degrees. While symbolic racism typically applied to African Americans only, Tesler and Sears propose a key question: “Does the construct have such underpinnings for Latinos?”10 The authors further discuss the implications of Latinos in regards to equal discrimination that blacks receive from whites. As symbolic racism stands as an ideology that race connects to economic strife and disadvantage, as many Latinos as blacks suffer from lower-class housing and low household income. These connections the two ethnicities face further bonds them in an equal struggle against racism. Ergo, many Latinos would support an African American man who symbolizes a chance at success for other minorities. Also, take a step back and consider this: the Democratic Party placed two wild cards into the race- an African American man and a woman. With Hillary Clinton running as a Democratic candidate, many Americans of all walks of life reach a dilemma to have either a member of a discriminated minority or a discriminated gender in office. Her running also sets a relativity point in how abhorred white Americans felt about having a black president that many would support a feminist in a sexist era.11 However, these sentiments could not compete with a man. After a CBS survey that placed Obama at a 22 percent advantage over Clinton, respondents said that “female candidates face greater obstacles in presidential politics than male African American candidates do.”12 More importantly, four times as many Americans considered racism as a more dire problem than sexism. Therefore, supporting an African American candidate may relieve part of the growing issue.

Americans can not discriminate Obama more than a black man can, right? Wrong. Chapter Seven elaborates on the vicious rumors and mud-slinging towards Obama as a number of various entities- specifically being a Muslim. Though a thin accusation like that would hold no weight in a regular setting, it holds a world of fear in an era plagued by terrorism. In the Introduction, Tesler and Sears emphasize the primitive “other” and what it represents.13 The “other” symbolizes a being that is not one of “us”, therefore something else, and something else refers to a creature of hostility and alienation. In an era caused by the plane strikes on September 11th, 2001, Muslims and any form of Islamic worshipping falls under “other.” Therefore, Accusing Obama of worshipping Islam also connects him to terrorism. On another note, racism does not exist as simply black and white, but as a spectrum of grays. Chapter Eight: “Is Obama’s Presidency Post-Racial” focuses on the racial hostility from conservatives but also champions the racial liberalism that supports the Obama administration. Tesler and Sears end their book noting that a year into Obama’s presidency, racialization still plays a large part in how the public view Obama’s ability to lead, even after the most racialized election of American history.

Tesler and Sears analyze the presidential election for the racial implications in order to verify the presence of racism and it’s ability to influence the election. In the Introduction, the authors list the many factors of racism and the racial profiling of Barack Obama from racism-over-sexism to the ideology of “otherness.”1 Tesler also notes the difference between racially resentful and racially sympathetic as conflicts and assets, respectively. By differentiating the two, Tesler implies that racism is a spectrum, not an absolute. I.e, those who feel more racially resentful will feel less racially sympathetic and vice versa.

Michael Tesler, an assistant professor of political science at the University of California Irvine, specializes in the studies of voting behavior, Ethnicity and Politics, and American politics. Educated at the University of California Los Angeles, Tesler possesses an exceptional vessel of knowledge regarding the ebb and flow of politics. His understanding of the implications of race in politics also makes him a well of information and intellectual perspective regarding this specific topic. However, as Reverend Wright said about Clinton, Tesler, a white male, has never faced the prejudice African Americans deal with so his perspective stops at the personal level.1 Tesler graduated from UCLA in 2005, meaning he already possessed an interest in racial studies before the controversial 2008 election. As a dissertation for his PhD, Tesler wrote The Spillover of Racialization in 2010 and imbued it into this collaboration with David O. Sears as Chapter Four of Obama’s Race. As an analyst of politics, Tesler has refrained from sharing his political standing to maintain a nonpartisan perspective on political issues.

Speaking of David O. Sears, he is a professor of social and political psychology at UCLA. These fields of specialty make him an asset in analyzing the racial effects on society and politics. In fact, Tesler and Sears utilize Sears “symbolic racism” theory in Obama’s Race to give shape to the current form of racism.1 Fun fact: Sears is the most cited political psychologist on Google Scholar. Sears takes great interest in psychology, coming from psychologists for parents. Furthermore, with a science rich upbringing, Sears possesses a keen understanding of political science and social psychology. Like Tesler, as a political analyst, Sears has refrained from sharing his political standing to maintain a nonpartisan perspective on political issues.

Paul Wachtel, a professor at City College of new York, refines the meanings and methodology of Tesler and Sears’ Obama’s Race. While Tesler focuses on the statistical evidence of polls and analyzes the racial elements that manipulate the results, Wachtel provided other sources that manipulate racial data. For instance, Wachtel claims that while voter’s choice depends on their party ideology, class position, and the economy, Tesler and Sears proved that “attitudes toward race, far from reflecting a “post-racial” state of affairs, played a significant role in their choices.”1 Even when Wachtel’s traditional sources of voter’s choices equal one another, race still plays a smaller, more subconscious role in voting, thus proving that the United States still has a way to go to reach a post-racial America. On another note, Wachtel respects Sears for his development of the symbolic racism theory and echoes the evidence found regarding racially resentful and racially sympathetic ideology and their effects on voting. Furthermore, result of Obama’s candidacy itself sparked a mixture of “attitudes” and “conflicts about race.”2 More importantly, Wachtel voices the underlying idea of the racial spectrum rather than racial absolutes. To place the article in a time frame, Wachtel wrote this review in 2014. From 2008 to the second he put his fingers on the keys, Wachtel witnessed five years of Obama’s ability to lead as well as watching for any changes towards a post-racial America. Post-racial America re-elected an African American president. The dream of a post-racial America has come into fruition.

While the book covered a great amount of information, Tesler and Sears’ Obama’s Race leaves casual readers at a loss. Analytical readers can absorb the information well, however the graphs take time to study, breaking a reader’s concentration. As a final remark, the book only discusses a short expanse of time. Tesler and Sears cover the Primary and the General Election well, noting the racial elements in play, but the short period of time from Obama’s inauguration to Obama’s Race’ production does not provide enough evidence of a post-racial America.

After the Cold War, America faced a drastic shift of focus: from the fear of Communism to the fear of terrorism.America’s involvement with middle-Eastern countries leads to radical groups like Al Qaeda to impose a very tangible threat to the livelihood of Americans. More importantly, with the new enemy of Americans comes the alienation. In the era of Islamic terrorism, Barack Obama faces grand accusations of being a Muslim. In fact, Tesler and Sears label this accusation as one of Obama’s main antagonistic ideologies. Obama already faces racial prejudice in all facets of support and dissent, but to be called a Muslim connects Obama to the radical groups plaguing the fears of Americans.1 It only exacerbates his current racial trials.

[2]Tesler, Michael, and David O. Sears. Obama’s Race: The 2008 Election and the Dream of a Post-racial America. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2010. Page: 4 Summary
[3]Tesler, Michael, and David O. Sears. Obama’s Race: The 2008 Election and the Dream of a Post-racial America. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2010. Page: 16-17.
[4]Tesler, Michael, and David O. Sears. 1.
[5]Tesler, Michael, and David O. Sears. 13.
[6]Tesler, Michael, and David O. Sears. 18.
[7]Tesler, Michael, and David O. Sears. 30.
[8]Tesler, Michael, and David O. Sears. 42-44
[9]Tesler, Michael, and David O. Sears. 73.
[10]Tesler, Michael, and David O. Sears. 88.
[11]Tesler, Michael, and David O. Sears. 93.
[12]Tesler, Michael, and David O. Sears. 96.
[13]Tesler, Michael, and David O. Sears. 8.
[14]Tesler, Michael, and David O. Sears. 123.
[15]Tesler, Michael, and David O. Sears. 9. Thesis
[16]Tesler, Michael, and David O. Sears. Obama’s Race: The 2008 Election and the Dream of a Post-racial America. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2010. Page: 6-9 Michael Tesler
[17]Tesler, Michael, and David O. Sears. Obama’s Race: The 2008 Election and the Dream of a Post-racial America. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2010. Page: 32 David O. Sears
[18]Tesler, Michael, and David O. Sears. Obama’s Race: The 2008 Election and the Dream of a Post-racial America. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2010. Page: 17-18 Paul Wachtel’s Critical Review
Wachtel, Paul L. “Obama’s Race: The 2008 Election and the Dream of a Post-racial America. By Michael Tesler and David O. Sears. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010. 200 Pp.” Political Psychology 35.1 (2014): 125-27. Web.
Wachtel, Paul L. “Obama’s Race: The 2008 Election and the Dream of a Post-racial America. By Michael Tesler and David O. Sears. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010. 200 Pp.” Political Psychology 35.1 (2014): 125-27. Web.
Common Question
Tesler, Michael, and David O. Sears. Obama’s Race: The 2008 Election and the Dream of a Post-racial America. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2010. Page: 9.