Gilbert N. Kahn’s op-ed, “Why blacks and Jews need to march again,” (Aug. 22) states that Barack Obama has been “a remarkable symbol” of black-white relations. One proof of this is that he was “elected by a decisive margin and reelected by an (sic) greater one.” As an historian, I could not allow this remarkable statement to pass.
In 2008, Obama received 69,498,513 votes and 365 electoral votes, and his percentage of the total vote was 52.9 percent. The corresponding figures for John McCain, his Republican opponent, were 59,948,323; 173; and 45.7 percent.
In 2012, Obama received 65,915,796 votes, 323 electoral votes, and 51.1 percent of the total vote. Mitt Romney, his Republican rival, won 60,935,500 votes, 206 electoral votes, and 47.2 percent of the vote. Thus the vote for Obama from 2008 to 2012 declined by approximately three and a half million, his electoral vote fell by33, and his percentage of the total vote fell 1.8 percent. The vote for Romney, by contrast, increased by one million votes and 33 electoral votes over that of McCain, and the percentage of his vote total was 1.5 percent higher. Obama’s winning margin in 2012 was five million, one-half that of 2008. Thus in no way was Obama’s margin “greater” in 2012 than in 2008. In fact, it was considerably less. Then there is the question whether 52.9 percent,much less 51.1 percent, is a “decisive margin.” It is not when compared to other recent presidential elections. Clearly Obama was less popular in2012 than in 2008. Why this was so can be debated.
The title of Prof. Kahn’s op-ed harkens back to a supposed golden age of black-Jewish relations when Abraham Joshua Heschel, Joachim Prinz, Kivie Kaplan, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner marched arm-in-arm with blacks in support of civil rights and social and economic change. Kahn wishes to return to this golden age so that blacks and Jews can “march again.” This is what I would call a “fantasy narrative.” Goodman and Schwerner were lukewarm Jews at best and hardly representative of the Jewish community. Schwerner, in fact, repudiated all ties to Judaism and Jewishness. Goodman and Schwerner were what the radical historian Isaac Deutscher called “non-Jewish Jews.”
Gilbert Kahn’s heart might be in the right place, but, as so often occurs, good intentions don’t necessarily make for good history or good political science.