Category Archives: Race

When Race is Forced Front and Center

It’s the first week of August, and instead of talking about the enormous challenges (and crises) this country faces, the McCain campaign and its surrogates have driven the “Double-Talk Express” and the debate into the mud. The last week has been almost entirely about Barack Obama and his character. The constant chatter and shouting matches on cable news have been about race, Brittney Spears and Paris Hilton. Excellent political analysis of the last week can be found in this John Heilemann article.

So all this got me thinking: is this really where we’re at in this country? Why do we settle for such garbage? The McCain campaign is hitting every possible negative angle through, as Heilemann notes, “distortion, innuendo, and outright slander.” In one word, deliberate lies. The caricature of Barack Obama is, as we speak, being painted and hustled out to the American public in an extremely calculated fashion.

I think that Bob Herbert hit the nail right on the head today by discussing what I was writing about in my last post. Some choice excerpts from Herbert’s column:

You knew something was up back in March when, in his first ad of the general campaign, Mr. McCain had himself touted as “the American president Americans have been waiting for.”

There was nothing subtle about that attempt to position Senator Obama as the Other, a candidate who might technically be American but who remained in some sense foreign, not sufficiently patriotic and certainly not one of us — the “us” being the genuine red-white-and-blue Americans who the ad was aimed at.

and

Nevertheless, it’s frustrating to watch John McCain calling out Barack Obama on race. Senator Obama has spoken more honestly and thoughtfully about race than any other politician in many years. Senator McCain is the head of a party that has viciously exploited race for political gain for decades.

This week, what many earlier this year were worried would happen if Obama became the Democratic nominee, i.e. a presidential campaign with race being forced front and center, happened. Why? Because Republicans know that if the campaign is about Obama and his race (cleverly disguised in code language like “other” and “American”), they have their only real shot at winning the election.

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Filed under Politics, Race

“Playing the Race Card”

I’m sure I’m not the only one who is annoyed by the phrase, “playing the race card.” Today, the McCain campaign is accusing Barack Obama of using — what conventional wisdom calls — one of the most vile cards in the politics deck.

The idea of playing the race card is just a silly catch-all phrase that is designed to elicit some sort of negative response about the cardholder. Really, what does playing the race card mean? First of all, race is something that will be in this campaign no matter what. There have been 43 white male presidents in U.S. history. Here we have the first black major-party candidate with a real shot of becoming president, do you think that white males will just sit back and let that happen without reminding voters, “uh, excuse me, but he’s black.”

Of course not. There is too much history here. The unfinished business of slavery and its legacy continues to this very day because it was never dealt with fully, and Americans like to pretend that “we have moved beyond that.” So, until we actually deal with our history, race will be a part of the conversation.

Second, what journalists should be doing — instead of hyperventilating over who is “playing the race card” — is having real discussion about the content, or substance, of what is being called “playing the race card.” Most importantly, journalists should ask, who is actually benefiting from the focus of race in the campaign?

In this case, it’s the McCain campaign that will benefit. Their narrative so far about Obama (and amplified by the series of viral smear emails going around) has been all about Obama not being American enough, not patriotic enough, not putting his country first (see McCain’s new tagline), being the quintessential “other” (read: too black, or a Muslim which he is not — not that either of these should preclude one from becoming president).

And one last thing: the notion that the Obama campaign is playing the race card is just ridiculous. Why? Because, when you look at Obama, he is clearly black, or at least not white (though he is half, yet identifies as black; but more on identity/race/perception in the U.S. at some other time). So in a way, I guess Obama is a “walking race card.” Please. Look at history. It does not benefit him to be black when running for the presidency, and even if it did, he would maybe only be on equal ground with a white male at that point.

Late Update: I just want to re-emphasize the new McCain tagline, “COUNTRY FIRST” (refer to why a few paragraphs above), because there is a big kick-off (and free) “Country First” Concert tonight 8/1/08 in Panama City, Florida. This, combined with the negative ads this week, combined with the viral smear emails, is clearly the new unified message strategy. Everyone, repeat after me. The new tagline says it all. Check the screenshot below of the campaign website with the tagline blazed across the top.

"Obama is not quite American enough"

"Country First" -- read: "Obama is not quite American enough"

Later Update: The “Country First” Concert with John McCain last night only draws several hundred people, which is only a fraction of what country music star John Rich normally gets at his concerts — usually in the thousands — and remember, this concert was free.

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Filed under Media/Journalism, Politics, Race