In Vote was astronomical for Obama in some Philadelphia wards we read the following:
In a city where President Obama received more than 85 percent of the votes, in some places he received almost every one. In 13 Philadelphia wards, Obama received 99 percent of the vote or more.
Those wards, many with large African American populations, also swung heavily for Obama over John McCain in 2008. But the difficult economy seemed destined to dampen that enthusiasm four years later.
Not to worry. Ward leaders and voters said they were just as motivated this time.
“In this election, you had to point out to the people what was at stake. And in many cases, they felt that the Romney doctrine was not going to favor the working man,” said Edgar “Sonny” Campbell.
It seems amazing to me that 99% of a district would actually favor Obama’s policies. You certainly don’t get that kind of policy agreement in my suburban Philadelphia neighborhood! It is therefore easy to conclude that these people are voting not for policy but perhaps for skin color. However, let’s be generous, and suppose that they actually did vote for Obama’s policies. Suppose that these people live in neighborhoods where there really is an almost unanimous opinion that Obama’s policies are right and good. If everyone around you thinks like you do, if their conclusions seem so obvious to you, it isn’t hard to conclude that there must be something wrong with those who think differently. Suddenly, I think I begin to see an explanation for the phenomenon of crying “racist” against those who oppose Obama’s policies. Perhaps opposing those policies is such a foreign concept to such people – and to everyone surrounding them – that race becomes an easy explanation. Perhaps the existence of dissension strikes them in much the same way that the existence of near unanimity strikes me.
If this analysis is right, or somewhere in the neighborhood of being right, then perhaps we have a clue how to approach folks that accuse others of racial prejudice in politics. Could it be as simple as observing the fact that while you may be surrounded by people of like-mind, in other circles there is a much greater diversity of opinion – a diversity that has to do with how people think, that has to do with ideas and not skin color? Or, that while you may think diversity of opinion is the norm, in other circles, a nearly unanimous consensus reigns – a consensus that is perhaps a part of the fabric of a subculture and that has to do with how people think and not with skin color?
Yet, there is a difference between the two sides here: one side is reacting to unanimity while the other side is reacting not to dissension per se, but to the mere possibility of dissension. For me, when I look at the unanimity in Philadelphia, my question is “How can almost everyone believe X?”. My question is not “How can anyone believe X?” While I don’t believe X, I am nonetheless surrounded by people who do believe it. I expect some people to disagree with me; I just don’t expect everyone to. Suppose Joe is from Philadelphia and he believes that since it is absurd for me to really not believe X, I must be racially motivated. Joe really seems to be making the assertion that “No one can really disbelieve X!” That is, while I am looking for an explanation for the unanimity, Joe takes it for granted that no one can truly disbelieve X and so he looks for an alternative explanation that doesn’t have to anything to do with reason or belief. It seems that I have a failure to recognize “group think”, while Joe has a failure to be open-minded.
Open-mindedness, understood as the ability to entertain a foreign viewpoint, to fully comprehend it and intellectually treat it fairly, is a virtue. It seems to me that Joe lacks this virtue, because he cannot fathom how someone would honestly think differently from him. So how do we proceed? First, rather than cry racism ourselves, we should be willing to admit that other dynamics, such as group think, may be at play. Second, we have to first persuade people that our views are at least plausible, that a reasonable person could possibly hold them. Only after that is achieved, can we hope to persuade them that our views are not only plausible, but also right.
 For a discussion on the virtue of open-mindedness, from a Christian perspective, see “Open-mindedness” in Being Good: Christian Virtues for Everyday Life , Austin & Geivett, eds.