Fear of a Black Planet

In light of Sen. John McCain's badly managed presidential campaign and series of outlandishly false statements, some prominent Democrats and media pundits now are saying the only reason many polls show McCain essentially tied with Barack Obama is due to

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In light of Sen. John McCain’s badly managed presidential campaign and series of outlandishly false statements, some prominent Democrats and media pundits now are saying the only reason many polls show McCain essentially tied with Barack Obama is due to the latter’s ethnicity. Gee, ya think?

A recent Associated Press poll found that deep-seated racial beliefs could cost Obama the White House if the election is close. The poll, conducted with Stanford University, indicates that the percentage of voters who might turn away from Obama solely because of his race could easily be larger than the final difference between the two presidential candidates in 2004 — about 2.5 percent.

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Cincinnati native, raised the topic of subtle racism while taking questions from a crowd in Iowa last week. “Have any of you noticed that Barack Obama is part African-American?” said Sebelius.

“That may be a factor. All the code language, all that doesn’t show up in the polls. And that may be a factor for some people.” Jack Cafferty, a CNN political analyst, echoed the theme later that same day.

“Race is arguably the biggest issue in this election, and it’s one that nobody’s talking about,” Cafferty said. “The differences between Barack Obama and John McCain couldn’t be more well-defined. Obama wants to change Washington. McCain is a part of Washington and a part of the Bush legacy. Yet the polls remain close. Doesn’t make sense, unless it’s race.”

Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke even discussed the topic in a recent Web article.

“I know there is a real concern out there that some people who normally would be voting Democratic might not vote for an African American,” Burke said. I’ve been saying ever since Ohio’s March primary that the most likely explanation for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s strong showing among the state’s bluecollar, non-college educated workers was their reluctance in voting for an African American to hold the highest office in the nation.

Exit polling done at the time by MSNBC revealed about two-thirds of white voters in Ohio backed Clinton, higher than in many other states.

Ohio is also far more Caucasian than many states; nearly threefourths of all voters here are white, compared to the six in 10 in earlier Democratic primaries.

Obama got overwhelming support from blacks, younger voters and the college educated in Ohio but did poorly among blue collar workers and elderly voters. The same split held true in primary results in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, where the same demographic gave Clinton her margins of victory.

But even Clinton’s own campaign chairman, Terry McAuliffe, conceded during the primary race that Obama and Clinton agreed on “90 percent of the issues.” The biggest difference was on healthcare, and in that instance Clinton’s plan was more liberal. Clinton’s proposal would have required that everyone have insurance coverage, which Obama’s didn’t at the time. Further, Obama publicly criticized the job losses sparked partially by passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement in the 1990s and vowed to renegotiate the pact, while Clinton was more hesitant and nebulous on the issue.

Whether it was genuine or calculated, Obama’s position was closer to the one held by many blue collar workers in the region, yet they still voted for Clinton.

Meanwhile, McCain changes his positions like most people change their underwear. McCain was for campaign finance reform before he was against it. He was for helping undocumented immigrants earn a pathway to citizenship before he opposed it. And he strongly criticized Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and far-right evangelical Christians as “agents of intolerance” before he began cozying up to them to win votes.

No candidate is perfect, but comparisons between Obama and McCain are like comparing filet mignon to ground chuck. Race is still a hot button issue that’s just not brought up in polite society. Many white twentysomethings I’ve recently spoken to believe “I’m not racist, so racism doesn’t exist and I resent it when it’s brought up.” If only it were so.

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