Friday, October 17, 2008

No, it 's not about race . . . or is it?

Wednesday's New York Times featured several articles on the Obama campaign's encounter with racism and other "race-conscious" issues on the campaign trail. Several Times reporters interviewed Obama campaign workers canvassing in every region of the country, and they also spoke with respondents from all walks of life about how they felt about a black man running for president. Like it or not, these everyday Americans -- not just Joe Sixpack or Joe the Plumber, but Joe the College Student, Mary the native Alabaman, Bob the Industrial Park Cubicle Worker -- were refreshingly candid in assessing their own feelings about seeing Barack Obama as president of the United States. The disconnect between listening the elite media debate which candidate is more "authentic" and connected to the working-class or how factors such as "character" and "honesty" are really what drive voters' opinions on the candidates rather than race and the response that these "real" Americans give to reporters who actually venture outside the Beltway or an East Coast television studio could not be more stark. Sure, I'd be a lot more likely to laugh at John McCain for his outrage at John Lewis for comparing the rallies held by his campaign to the racial hatefests of George Wallace in the early 1960s if I thought McCain wasn't serious. But I think McCain, as well as his defenders in the elite mainstream media who can't stop talking about Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers, really doesn't understand why Lewis and so many others are so upset and offended by his campaign's tactics and behavior. Race-baiting, whether direct or carefully coded, has been a staple of Republican presidential campaign politics since 1968, when Richard Nixon launched his famous "Southern strategy." And yet all we ever hear from the John McCains and George W. Bushes and their apologists is how these tactics don't really represent the mainstream of the Republican party.

Actually, they do. Or else professional Republican campaign strategists wouldn't keep pressing the matter. And those Republicans outraged by John Lewis's dead-on words -- and remember, he did not call McCain a segregationist; he simply said that the racially charged atmopshere at his rallies, an atmosphere that McCain did not criticize even as he demanded that Obama "repudiate" John Lewis's sentiments, might well lead to violence if not squelched by the candidates themselves -- don't seem to get nearly as worked up when one of their own treads down that familiar Republican path of racial manipulation. It's really an incredible two-step. I'm not a racist, says a John McCain, a George W. Bush, a George H.W. Bush or a Ronald Reagan; but I am helpless to control the people around me who I am paying to get me elected for exploiting racial fears for electoral gain.


Some crackpot African-American public figure says something that makes white people upset, and the Republican political-media echo chamber can't stop talking about it. Signs like "Vote White, Vote Right" show up next to McCain-Palin signs, and the whole thing is just one big misunderstanding. As I have said before, when a prominent white politician is forced to give a speech apologizing for some right-wing nutcase's idotic statements about African-Americans, gays or any other minority, I'll agree that we've made some progress on the racial double-standard front..

In two and a half weeks, Barack Obama will be elected the next president of the United States. Between now and then, John McCain faces a choice. He can either lose with dignity and counsel his supporters to grow up and accept American life in the 21st century. Or he can fan the flames of their racial resentment and continue to propogate the myth that a mysterious black man is about to land on planet Earth, pimp out the White House, trick up Air Force One and hold outrageous ghetto parties on the Elipse. The second choice might be more fun for McCain, Sarah Palin and their supporters, some of whom are wearing the shirt that you see pictured above to campaign events. But the first choice, the one that McCain should make, will be the one that will give him his best chance to preserve what little there is left of his carefully cultivated but no longer accurate reputation as a man of honor.

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