We are less than four weeks away from electing our next president and many news outlets are voicing a concern many Democrats are too fearful to look at closely: silent racism. Conservative pundits and news outlets are trying to pretend it doesn't exist, with headlines like "Don't Assume That A Vote Against Obama Is Racist" or "Get Ready For Cries Of Racism At Every Turn."
But don't assume that a vote against Obama isn't racist, either, because it may be just that.
The campaign has been a difficult road for both Senators John McCain and Barack Obama, and what had been a relatively dignified race came to a screeching halt when John McCain chose Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate.
Regardless of what anyone might think of Sarah Palin, the vetting process, or her qualifications to be vice president, one glaring fact about this selection is clear: she's meant to polarize.
Palin represents a very small but vocal percentage of the conservative vote. She's a fervent pro-lifer, card-carrying NRA member, and Christian who believes in a strict interpretation of the Bible. McCain, on the other hand, represents the Ronald Reagan-era conservatives who brought the Republican ticket back to prominence before the evangelists got a hold of it thanks to Jerry Falwell. Honestly, if you were to really look at the two parties, the current Republican agenda is much closer to the Dixiecrats agenda from 60 years ago.
Now don't get me wrong, I am not suggesting that modern Republicans, or even Christian conservatives think segregation is right (although some certainly do), but there is definitely a generation gap going on, and we are at the crossroads. The reason the Democrats have been pushing so hard for the youth vote is obvious: the youth vote is more open-minded and less prejudiced, and I mean that in the classic definition of the term.
Clearly a person's vote for a candidate does NOT indicate inherent racism. A certain number of Americans will vote for John McCain because they are Republicans and he's the Republican candidate. I am also sure there are some die-hard Hillary Clinton fans who will vote for McCain because they are bitter. There are a number of fence-sitters/independents out there who are trying very hard to discern who the best candidate is, and I applaud those folks – their task is not enviable.
So that leaves us with people who like what Obama says, feel he's the most qualified, want a change in leadership, but simply can't bring themselves to vote for a black man.
I know this for a fact, because I have spoken to these people.
But wait, let me back up a second. These aren't what you'd consider bigots, racists or Klan members. These aren't people who wouldn't allow their kids to have black friends, nor refuse to work with black people, or who EVEN have black friends themselves. These are regular, hard-working, contributing members of society who just can't seem to wrap their minds around the fact that a "black man" might be President of the United States.
Think I am kidding? Here's a true story:
I know of a person (third party) who even suggested that having a black president would empower black people to become more, well, black. I can't even fathom what that means, but according to the person who told me about this, when she questioned the logic of this otherwise respectable and decent person, her reason was essentially a deep-seated fear that if Barack Obama becomes president this will legitimize black people's sense of superiority over whites causing some kind of universal shift in the status quo.
Just let that sink in and wash over you. I know, it's crazy, unless of course, this describes you.
This individual happens to be a fence-sitter who has voted Republican, but is now disillusioned with that party. She concedes that Barack Obama's suggested policies and plans are better for our future, she concedes that Sarah Palin is unacceptable and unqualified for the position as VP, not to mention, is WAY too conservative to appeal to most Americans who are, statistically speaking, moderates. But she just can't wrap her mind around a black man being the President.
So, if there are enough of these types of voters who are reluctant, but willing, to articulate their deep, silent racism, imagine how many more are out there who tell pollsters, "Sure, I like Obama," but won't be able to bring themselves to vote for him simply because of his skin color. Sadly, the above story is one of several I know, with variations on the theme, but with the same outcome.
In the last week or so, we've seen an even greater slide into mud-slinging by the McCain campaign, with Senator McCain enlisting his wife Cindy and running mate Sarah Palin to do his dirty work. By invoking the names of radical left wingers from decades ago or Obama's affiliations with politically outspoken pastors, Cindy and Sarah are subconsciously painting a picture of the stereotypical "angry black man". Why? Simply put, they are desperate to halt the impending wave of voters deciding Obama will bring the necessary change needed to stop the bleeding in the U.S.
McCain, who abandoned his promise to run a "clean" campaign when he chose to employ Rovian-style tactics beginning with his VP nomination, has run out of options. McCain knows his only hope is to scare those swing voters — like the person I described above — into sticking with the status quo.
That doesn't mean McCain is a racist, or his wife Cindy, or even hockey mom Sarah Palin. But it does mean McCain and his advisers know that there's still an invisible line in America and, with the right amount of fear-mongering, they might be able to tip the balance in their favor. Let's face it, despite what the polls show, this race will be tight. There are pockets in this country who can't see that Barack Obama, regardless of what you might think of his policies or efforts, is a black man who has transcended race.
Fortunately, Barack and his camp know this and they have a few cards up their sleeve too. Michelle Obama revealed this last night during her interview with Larry King:
King: How do you react when people talk about the Tom Bradley effect? Tom Bradley was mayor of Los Angeles [and was black]. He ran for governor of California. The polls had him 65 percent. I think he was practicing his acceptance speech and he lost. And the Bradley factors become people who were afraid to say [in polls], 'I'm against a black.' Do you fear that here? An anti-black vote?
Obama: People talk about it all the time. But it's theoretical in the case of this election. Because —
King: But you have a past case to look at.
Obama: But also, look where we are, Larry. Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee. If there was going to be a Bradley effect, if it was going to be in play, Barack wouldn't be the nominee. We have to focus on the country as it is. That was several decades ago. And I think that there's been growth and movement. Now, there will be people who will never vote for Barack Obama. But, there will be people who will never vote for John McCain, either. I think right now, people are so focused on what is the fate of our country, not just here domestically, but internationally. And I just believe that the issues are going to weigh in people's hearts more so as they go into the voting booths this time around, than anything else.
I, like the Obamas, believe enough people will search their hearts and take a leap of faith against the status quo. Because the status quo is just more of the same, and I don't know about you, but I have had enough of that.