Who is the Real Radical

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There is absolutely nothing radical about Barack Obama, his past or his politics. The only thing that is radical and continues to get even more radical, and frankly downright scary, is what is being said on the McCain Palin campaign trail.

In “Rage in the Town of Bethlehem“, Dana Milbank gives us a taste of the type of Atwater/Rove xenophobic fear tactics being implemented at McCain Palin rallies. In warming up the crowd for McCain, reports Milbank, Lehigh County GOP Chairman Bill Platt had this,

Think about how you’ll feel on November 5 if you wake up in the morning and see the news, that Barack Obama — that Barack Hussein Obama — is the president-elect of the United States, . . The number one most liberal senator in the United States of America was, you guessed it, the ambassador of change, Barack Hussein Obama . . . This election is about preserving America’s past and protecting the promise of its future.”

and

Barack Obama refused to wear an American flag on his lapel . . . Barack Obama, a man who wants to be president of the United States of America, removed the American flag from his chest because it was a symbol of patriotism. Perhaps Barack Obama doesn’t put country first, but he puts fashion first.

There is no need to mention that Vice President Cheney, the biggest proponent of the Iraq War, never wore a flag pin and neither Cheney nor W. ever served in the military. But, combine the above statements with Palin’s absurd notions that Obama “palls” around with terrorists, and we are left with a very shameful vision of what the country stands for.

This isn’t just me as an Obama supporter who is disgusted by the tactics. The New York Times (that endorsed McCain in the primaries) recently wrote in an editorial

It is a sorry fact of American political life that campaigns get ugly, often in their final weeks. But Senator John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin have been running one of the most appalling campaigns we can remember.

Even commentators in the conservative media are concerned. For example, Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal said on Sunday’s Meet the Press,

But there’s also something, for me, concerning populism as a tactic is justified often in politics. “I need this program, the people want it.” Populism as a strategy, “We’re the good guys, you’re the bad guys,” is not good, and, and if that’s the road they’re going, that’s not a good road to be on. It’s not helpful to the country.

Possibly in response to the “Who is the real Obama?” Republican hate chant, there is now a website called Obama Scrapbook with images and text showing just how much of a normal American Obama is — almost over stressing his whiteness (having been raised by white mom and white grandfather and with war veterans in the family).

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While I don’t believe that race will decide the outcome of the election, it would be naive to suggest that race plays no role. There will be a minority of people who will definitely not vote for a black candidate and others who will vote for Obama because he is black. More importantly, though, there is the historic reality of race in America that determines how Americans talk about a black candidate and how that candidate talks to the public. There are code words — calling Obama “boy” or “that one”, saying that he doesn’t know his place, that are all remnants of a deeply divided American past where such expressions embodied African American subservience. Add America’s new bigotry to the fire — Islamophobia — and a guy with a “funny name”, as Obama calls it, and the Atwater/Roves have plenty of hatred to play with.

So when faced with blatant swiftboating and false accusations, why doesn’t Obama just fight back? Fighting back might turn him into the kind of angry black man that whites wouldn’t vote for. Remember Bill Clinton’s whole strategy in the primaries? Last month, Ben Staples wrote “Barack Obama, John McCain and the Language of Race” for the Editorial Observer column of the New York Times that

The throwback references that have surfaced in the campaign suggest that Republicans are fighting on racial grounds, even when express references to race are not evident. In a replay of elections past, the G.O.P. will try to leverage racial ghosts and fears without getting its hands visibly dirty. The Democrats try to parry in customary ways.

Mr. Obama seems to understand that he is always an utterance away from a statement — or a phrase — that could transform him in a campaign ad from the affable, rational and racially ambiguous candidate into the archetypal angry black man who scares off the white vote. His caution is evident from the way he sifts and searches the language as he speaks, stepping around words that might push him into the danger zone.

These maneuvers are often painful to watch. The troubling part is that they are necessary.

This has all become more evident in recent days as McCain has turned up the heat. Ironically, Obama’s calm in the face of these attacks are generating more confidence from the voters, especially in the midst of the financial crisis and what is being perceived as McCain’s erratic behavior. While McCain Palin are trying to fight this racial and cultural war, I am optimistic that the majority of the American people are more concerned with the pressing issues of the day than reminders of an ugly past. Doggonit, Obama even seems to be doing better amongst white male voters than either Gore or Kerry did in the last two elections.

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Filed under Essays, Obama 08

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