If you’ve been following politics for any length of time, you’re familiar with the race card. It’s not necessarily dealt by African-American candidates, though it is almost always dealt by Democrats in a heated political contest to gin up support for their candidates among minority voters.
There have been some horrendous abuses of the race card in past elections, the worst of which was a video ad invoking the tragic lynching of an African-American man by chaining him to the back of a pickup truck and dragging him to his death. The campaign spot claimed that the idea of Bush in the White House forced the narrator to relive that crime. Another ad warned black people that if Republicans won the election, black churches would be burned down.
With the aid of David Axlerod, a consultant who specializes in helping African-American candidates win in white dominated electorates, Barack Obama has come very close to transcending race as a decisive political issue. Campaigning as a post-racial and unifying candidate for change, Obama has been one of the most inspiring American political leaders of all time. Unfortunately with the race tightening, he and his surrogates seem to feel they need an insurance policy. The sad result is that a candidate who does not need to play the race card to win has made it the centerpiece of his campaign strategy.
To his credit, Obama has not dealt race cards as despicable as the ones used against George Bush. However, he and his surrogates in the media are dealing them in full hands as McCain campaign manager, Rick Davis, would say “from the bottom of the deck”. Even Bill Clinton, once hailed as the “first black president” was disappointed to find the race card played against him during the long primary contest between his wife, Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Obama.
People do not realize how actively involved the media are in the Obama campaign. They may not be taking orders directly from the campaign, but there can be no doubt there is a coordinated effort behind the scenes to take the talking points, faxes, emails and press releases from the Obama camp seriously. This is fairly transparent in the nuanced bigotry that is hitting the media as almost every outlet comments that the polls are too close for Obama to actually win even if he’s ahead. Conservative talk show host, Rush Limbaugh plays montages on his show almost every day of mainstream media types using identical phrasing in their characterization of some event.
There is a common narrative in the media regarding the racial implications of the current presidential campaign. Try Googling “racially tinged”, for example. They cite the mythology of the “Bradley Effect”, a Democratic code phrase for white people saying they’ll vote for a black candidate because they don’t want to be labeled as racist.
Of course, the assumption is these racists will then vote for the white candidate in the privacy of the voting booth. The “Bradley Effect” was debunked years ago when someone figured out that a voter initiative generated more voter turnout among people who supported the Republican governor’s position than the position of Tom Bradley. The “Bradley Effect” in fact could more accurately be described as what happens when the candidate is on the wrong side of a divisive issue and his opponent is on the right side.
Polls have shown that more than 95% of African-Americans will support Obama. That’s not much more than would support any other Democrat candidate. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton appealed to white working class voters, often associated with the Reagan Democrats. When she mentioned this reality in a campaign speech, she was dealt the race card. Her offense was pointing out a political reality in black and white terms. The problem is that the white working class voters Hillary thought would support her were not doing so because of race but because of ideology. Obama is a Socialist – perhaps the most Liberal politician in U.S. history. Clinton, while no moderate, is left of center on many issues – an easier pill for working class people to swallow.
Obama has from the beginning emphasized his roots as a wedge issue. His attack on Republicans has been predictive rather than accusative. He claims the GOP will point out that he has a “funny middle name” – and then McCain makes mention of his middle name (Hussein) off-limits. He says the GOP will point out that he doesn’t look like other presidents on the dollar bills. To my knowledge, no Republican has mentioned Obama’s race other than in response to his dealing out a hand of race cards.
Secret Decoder Ring
The Obama camp and their surrogates in the media will accuse Republicans of using “racially coded messages” to telegraph to their constituents that Obama is somehow unacceptable because he’s black. Unfortunately, the public has not been given the key to these cryptic messages and there is no secret decoder ring in your box of Cracker Jack.
- Apparently, when McCain showed Paris Hilton and Brittany Spears in an ad intended to show Obama as nothing more than an airhead celebrity, the “secret code” was that he was a black man who would do awful things to these fine upstanding young white women.
- When McCain showed Franklin Raines, former CEO of Fannie Mae who plundered the company and drove it into the ground, helping to precipitate the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, the “secret code” was that two “sinister black men” were responsible for the mess. The other “sinister black man” was Obama himself. The real message was that Obama took Raines and Jim Johnson into his circle of economic advisors – not a wise move if you don’t want to repeat the disaster these men caused.
- Obama surrogates claimed Vice Presidential candidate, Sarah Palin’s comments about William Ayers, the domestic terrorist who bombed the Pentagon and other high profile government targets was “racially tinged” because she did not mention that Ayers was white. This race card would have been dealt differently if Palin had identified Ayers’ race… “Oh, so you think terrorists are normally NOT white?”
- Barney Frank alleged that McCain’s criticism of the way Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac handled subprime loans was racist because the programs were targeted to the poor, most of whom Frank believes are African-American.
- A mysterious letter was dropped in the mailboxes of Obama supporters accusing them of supporting him because of “racial guilt” and asking them to visit a Website for more details. The group operating the Website posted a note disassociating itself from the letter and its anonymous author. No information about the number of people receiving such letters has surfaced, but if Democratic operatives wanted to stir up a little angst, they only need a few to draw media attention. The next step will be to blame McCain supporters for the letter. This is the oldest trick in the book, but it works.
Liberal commentators will continue to parse everything McCain says to find a racial overtone. In a blogher.com article, Maria Niles quotes David Gergen when he unwittingly leaked the Obama strategy:
“There has been a very intentional effort to paint him as somebody outside the mainstream, other, ‘he’s not one of us,'” said Gergen, who has worked with White Houses, both Republican and Democrat, from Nixon to Clinton. “I think the McCain campaign has been scrupulous about not directly saying it, but it’s the subtext of this campaign. Everybody knows that. There are certain kinds of signals. As a native of the south, I can tell you, when you see this Charlton Heston ad, ‘The One,’ that’s code for, ‘he’s uppity, he ought to stay in his place.’ Everybody gets that who is from a southern background. We all understand that. When McCain comes out and starts talking about affirmative action, ‘I’m against quotas,’ we get what that’s about.” Read entire article here
The tragic consequence of Democratic identity politics in this election cycle is that it could set race relations back nearly 50 years. Who wants to re-live that history. The use of the race card is not only offensive but unnecessary. Democrats enjoy the convergence of a perfect political storm of a declining economy, an unpopular war, an unpopular president of the same party as their opponent, and a media fully in their corner from faux commentary to carefully crafted hit pieces on Saturday Night Live. That combined with a charismatic candidate who reads his script with style and grace, and you have no need to play racial politics.
But they do anyway. The fact that Democrats will consistently play the race card – even when there is no political need to – demonstrates that they lost touch with the rest of America so long ago. The irony is that the first racially transcendent presidential candidate in history is being done such a disservice to those who worship in his temple. If you don’t see “secret codes” in McCain’s rhetoric or campaign ads, it’s because there are none. If you don’t see any appeal for Barack Obama in terms of substantive policy positions, it is because there is none. If racial politics is a contributing factor, it will be either because Obama played the card effectively or because voter backlash will send a final message to Democratic candidates: You can’t win on this gambit anymore.
Resources on Bradley Effect:
Thanks to Al Giordano of the Narcosphere for the above links.