(Salon) – In 1964, there were five black members of the House of Representatives — barely over 1 percent — compared to the 11 percent of the population who were black. But the American people were evenly split, 30 to 31 percent, on whether blacks should have more or less influence, with 28 percent saying things were “about right” as they stood. What’s more, those opposed to government social spending programs were three times more likely to say blacks should have less influence compared to those supporting social spending.
Those historical tidbits, from “The Political Beliefs of Americans; a Study of Public Opinion” by Lloyd Free and Hadley Cantril, immediately came to mind last week when Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, locked in a tight reelection fight — as always — made a lot of headlines with her comments noting that race had something to do with President Obama’s unpopularity in the state.
“I’ll be very, very honest with you. The South has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans,” she told NBC News in an interview. “It’s been a difficult time for the president to present himself in a very positive light as a leader.”
This is hardly earth-shattering news from the state that brought us Plessy v. Ferguson in the 1890s, and the deeply racialized devastation of Katrina less a decade ago, after which even President Bush admitted that “deep, persistent poverty” in the area “has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America.” Speaking of Katrina, according to a PPP poll last year, the good people of Louisiana “were evenly split on who was most responsible for the poor Hurricane Katrina response: George W. Bush or Obama, 28/29.” Given that Obama was a first-year senator at the time of Katrina, it’s not hard to see what Landrieu was driving at.