Racism in the Presidential Race?
After Barack Obama won the Democrat nomination, most pundits expected him to take a big lead over John McCain. He didn’t. McCain has been competitive, keeping Obama’s lead within the margin of error. He really hasn’t run a particularly brilliant campaign, and voters are tired of Republican dominance, so why the competitive race?
Liberals have the answer: racism. Plain, old-fashioned, Southern strategy racism. According to this line of thought, McCain is playing on racial fears to stay close to Obama. Obama seems to agree with this idea—he suggested that the fact that he “doesn’t look like the other presidents on the dollar bill” will be used against him by GOP operatives.
The most commonly cited example of this phenomenon is McCain’s “Celeb” ad. In this ad, Brittany Spears and Paris Hilton are shown with Barack Obama; ostensibly there to suggest that Obama is an empty-headed celebrity. But liberals see a deeper truth: the images of two white blonde women are there to stoke deep-seated white fears of black men running off with their women. Keith Olbermann summed up the liberal position by noting “three phallic symbols (Berlin’s Victory Column, the Washington Monument, and the Leaning Tower of Pisa), two blondes, and one black man” in McCain’s ad.
I think that Olbermann is overthinking the whole “phallic symbol” thing, because the Washington Monument and Leaning Tower of Pisa don’t actually appear in the ad at all. (I’m not sure, but I think that Olbermann saw a long shot of the Victory Column, and assumed it must be the Washington Monument, and thought he saw the Leaning Tower of Pisa in a slanted shot of the Column). And the racism seen in the white-black pairing is probably equally imaginary—the primary purpose of the grouping is to imply that Obama and Paris Hilton are similar intellectually, not that Obama will start seducing white women.
Liberals claim that the “seducing” message is not intended to be obvious, but rather is a concealed code image. And that is the problem with Left’s “racism” accusation—it is wholly theoretical. There is no concrete evidence for it, and the whole case rests on speculation. It is impossible to prove that McCain isn’t intending to send a racist message—even employing Occam’s Razor doesn’t prove that McCain didn’t intend anything dishonorable. And McCain’s denials don’t prove anything, as the Obama campaign says that his hasty defense against charges of racism is just more racism—if he wasn’t racist, would he mention the subject at all?
You can’t win against that kind of logic. But for the record, McCain has done everything possible to avoid even the appearance of racial impropriety—when a staffer tried to link Jeremiah Wright to more radical black leaders, he was fired and condemned, and when radio talk show host Bill Cunningham continually referred to “Barack Hussein (nudge nudge) Obama”, he was thrown overboard as well. McCain wouldn’t even capitalize on the Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s comments.
In fact, Obama faced more racism from the Hillary Clinton campaign. Hillary suggested that she would look out for “hard working white Americans” (presumbably them shiftless black folks could just fend for themselves), and claimed that Obama hadn’t done his “spadework.” Mario Cuomo reminded voters that Obama couldn’t “shuck and jive” his way around a press conference. Perhaps one or even two of these statements were just innocents slips of the tongue, but that all three were strikes me as unlikely. Obama has been treated much better (from a racial standpoint) by the McCain campaign.
However, the racial accusations will continue, for two reasons. The first is that, true or not, accusations of racism work. Obama doesn’t need to fool all of the people all of time—if he can just persuade a few, he will have done well. It doesn’t matter whether the charges are true or not—there is a relatively small but still useful core of voters who will always fall for them. Besides, perceived racism always rallies the liberal base.
The second reason is that liberals will need an explanation if McCain wins. In 1992, George H. W. Bush won because of the Willie Horton ad. In 2000, his son won due to a stolen Florida election. In 2004, Bush won because he swift boated John Kerry. Liberals seldom realize that sometimes the country is tired of their politics (the 2000 election), or that the Democrats often nominate weak candidates (Kerry, Dukakis), thus the constant rationalizations. If McCain wins, liberals will firmly believe that his victory was due solely to cleverly deployed GOP racism.