He racked up 43 percent of the white vote, equaling Bill Clinton’s performance and easily surpassing Al Gore and John Kerry.
Without those white folks, Obama would have lost the election.
Obama knew that all along. He knew that there are not enough black and minority voters to win an election unless a substantial number of whites join in. That’s why he downplayed racial issues throughout the campaign, focusing instead on a message of change that appealed to voters of every variety.
But his strategy would not have succeeded unless enough white voters were willing to look beyond his color and hear his message.
They were, and they did.
When I predicted in mid-September that the days when Republicans could win elections by stirring up white resentments were finally gone, some blacks thought I was being hopelessly naïve.
But as I wrote then, this is no longer the America that John McCain, Jesse Jackson and I grew up in. Coded racist appeals have lost much of their potency, especially among the young and the well-educated.
I don’t want to go overboard about this because most white voters still backed the Republicans. Some of them fell for McCain and Sarah Palin’s okey-doke because prejudice and reactionary thinking continue to play powerful roles in our politics, and they are not going away.
But that bad news should not diminish our gratitude for the white folks who had the courage and insight to cross the color line and join Obama’s cause.
They helped him to recreate the sort of multiracial coalition that Martin Luther King Jr. led to the greatest triumphs of the civil rights movement.