“I hope we don’t end up with Romney for president. He’s just so white, too white.” A person whom I very much respect and admire said this a few days ago and I wondered if that isn’t exactly why many white voters support him. I don’t mean to call them racists. I think it may be a much subtler form of reaction to the racial preferences in our culture. This is the button Republican campaigners are pushing when they attack President Obama by accusing him of being a “rock star” or “celebrity” president. Maybe there are people who feel tired of this sort of endless apology, this culture of valuing the person of European descent less than everyone else. They are sick of the black guy being the rock star, cooler than the white guy even if in this case, yes, Obama really is just plain cool and Romney happens to be square as Wonderbread with the crusts chopped off. They support Romney, on an unconscious level, because they are pushing back against a bias.
Of course, pushing back against the bias is the wrong thing to do here because the election isn’t about whether it’s unbiased to equate African American men with all that is good, noble and portrayed by Will Smith and white men with all that is evil and portrayed by Zeljko Ivanek.
An election is the time to let racial and cultural biases aside and hire the best candidate for a job.
So let’s imagine. Let’s imagine that we’re hiring a candidate to be CEO of a company. After all, people often say that government ought to be run more like a business. A candidate says “Your business has an enormous debt. I’ll get this place back in order, eliminate the debt and return the company to fiscal health.” You’d probably ask how. He replies, “Well, I promise it won’t be by increasing the company’s revenue. Other than that, I can’t get into it right now. It’s a very simple, clear plan. It just wasn’t possible to bring it on paper to the job interview. But after I’m hired, I’ll show it to you. Don’t worry, it’s solid and it will work.”
Wouldn’t you throw him out of your office?
The scenario gets worse. In this alternate world, he and the other leading candidate for the job each hire advisors who tell them how to convince you that they’re right for the job. The competitor is black and the paid consultants of the one with the secret business plan, who happens to be white, send you emails and leave you voicemails claiming that the black guy’s an illegal alien from Africa and a member of the Communist Party. You look into it. They’re lying. The white job applicant knows it. He doesn’t fire them.
The black guy isn’t a new applicant. He’s in the job now and his contract is up. He has been doing the job for a few years, a short time really and the business is a bit better than when you hired him but it’s not great. He says that things are doing better by many indicators than when he started and that’s true. He says that, with a new contract, he can do more. But you’d like faster, better results. When he was interviewing for the job, several people in your company made a big fuss about how it was “about time” you had an African American CEO. And now you have one.
So now what? I suggest that, racial issues aside, the guy doing the job decently but not wonderfully is a better bet than the one who has the nerve to bring his invisible formula to the interview and then hire liars to race bait you. I wouldn’t need a third strike to toss this candidate out, even if that means keeping a mediocre manager around a bit longer. When I see the many voters ready to give Romney a chance and overlook how he interviewed like a small-town snake oil salesman, I can only conclude that this isn’t really about the financial health of the company at all. Maybe people swallow Mitt Romney’s invisible plan for success and his silence when the people he hires tell lies because support for Romney is really about something intangible. Maybe some people are tired of hearing about candidates who are “too white." Still, if you think that our culture puts up with too many ethnic and racial biases and you want to take a stand for the beleaguered white male, I suggest that there is a time and place, a context in which to make the stand. The job hiring process is not that moment. Hiring should be based only on how these two job candidates present themselves and not on how we feel about society. Romney, even if some people have unfair reasons for disliking him, isn’t a good hiring decision.
I’d like to stand up to my good friend’s comment about the candidate who is “too white”. But I’ll do it when the two candidates are otherwise both good picks.