The Affirmative Action Myth

John Sununu recently told CNN that Colin Powell only endorsed President Obama out of racial solidarity. Implied in his comments is the conservative trope that Obama is something of an ‘affirmative action president.’ Both viewpoints rely on the same morsel of logic: He only got here because he’s black.

The affirmative-action argument is all over the place: in Donald Trump’s renewed calls for Obama’s college transcript; in jokes about Obama’s inability to speak without a teleprompter; dog-whistled by Karl Rove; and spelled out overtly in conservative newspapers and blogs. It’s the same rationale that subtly undergirds the wild success of Edward Klein’s book “The Amateur,” and perhaps even the popular notion that Mitt Romney’s corporate background suggests job-creating potential Obama doesn’t have: many Americans don’t think Obama looks the part.

In light of a new poll released today–“Majority in US Hold Racist Views,” the headline reads– the vitriol seems more laughable than ever. The key finding, more or less unchanged from 2008: “By virtue of racial prejudice, Obama could lose 5 percentage points off his share of the popular vote.”

If Obama wins the election, it’ll be in spite of popular sentiment about his race, not because of it.

Simon van Zuylen-Wood

Simon van Zuylen-Wood is a writer for Philadelphia Magazine.