Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Clarifying Election Part II

The following comment by Geraldine Ferraro may have been the stupidest of the entire primary season:

“If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman of any color, he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept.”

If Obama had an Anglo name and spoke with a Southern drawl, is there anyone in their right mind who doesn’t think he would now be ahead of McCain by 20 points in the national polls? And be ahead in at least 35 out of 50 states?

But Obama has a foreign name (including Hussein for a middle name), has lived abroad, has Muslim relatives, and is black; unfortunately, all of these factors represent serious drawbacks for him with a sizeable segment of the electorate. These are people who in 2008 remain at least slightly xenophobic, racist, or susceptible to accusations and insinuations that somehow Obama represents the “other”.

Think I’m exaggerating?

Just take a look at McCain’s first general election ad, which begins with the narration: “The American President Americans Have Been Waiting For.” If McCain is an “American President,” then what is Obama? An “un-American” president? This from the team that has said it wants to run a “clean” campaign, but won’t even try to control advertising by so-called 527s and other outside groups that are gearing up for what is likely to be one of the nastiest campaigns in recent memory.

There are numerous rumors already flying over the internet about Obama being anti-Semitic or refusing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, about Michelle Obama using the slur “whitey,” even questions regarding the legitimacy of Obama’s birth certificate (all of which can be debunked at Fight the Smears).

While America has come a long way from its overtly racist past, there is simply no doubt that racial fears, conscious and unconscious, will play a major role in this election. This November will show us whether a solid majority of Americans will be able to resist the smears, the coded racist slurs, and the dumbing down of the real issues by a media bent on sensationalism (and let’s not forget to mention a rightwing attack machine that will do absolutely anything in order to win).

This is not to suggest that any vote for McCain is a vote prompted by racist fears, any more than the votes against Hillary were all due to misogynist leanings. We still have five months to go; there are likely to be many ups and downs over the campaign, and surprises could occur that might alter the fundamental dynamics of the race.

But if the underlying trends continue and Obama loses, it will likely be that an onslaught of negative and untruthful scare tactics tipped the balance against him.

That is a huge reason why this election is so important.

Is America truly ready to move beyond its racist past? Can we be led by our hopes, and not by our fears and prejudices? Election 2008 will provide a serious reality check, perhaps the most clarifying moment of a generation.

Jason Scorse

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