Friday, March 21, 2008

Race and the Swiftboating of Obama

The following in italics comes directly from Liza, one of this blog's most astute readers. I encourage visitors to consider her remarks and respond. If you have something to say, speak up. What say you?

When Fox and other mainstream television media began running the video clip of the Reverand Jeremiah Wright saying, "God damn America," every African American adult in this country knew what had just happened. Senator Obama’s Swiftboat had finally arrived, and it was going to be all about race. That was always the intention, unless something else might have occurred to discredit the Senator. But nothing did occur, so the right wing political attack on Senator Obama that is intended to decimate his candidacy and elevate John McCain will be focused on the fact that the Senator is African American. No one knows this better than Senator Obama himself.

It is very important to understand, first of all, that Senator Obama being African American is not what concerns his political attackers. Condoleeza Rice is African American and she has faithfully toed the line for George Bush and his neo-conservative administration. Colin Powell was also a team player who sacrificed his own legacy in a fateful speech before the National Security Council to advance the neo-conservative agenda. No, being African American is not necessarily a problem for the Republican elite.

The problem being faced by Republicans in 2008 is losing the presidency and being the minority party in the Senate and the House of Representatives, a situation they may have to endure for many years to come. With the Senate and the House already lost, they still have their long shot at the presidency. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than having nothing. The attack on the Democratic contender is guaranteed to be as brutal as anything we have seen, and last week’s attack on Senator Obama that originated on Fox and spread to the other mainstream networks is only the introduction. The timing of the recent attack on Obama was intended to open the door for the less popular Hillary Clinton to possibly win the Democratic nomination, perhaps through superdelegates, and improve McCain’s chances to prevail in November.

How can any Republican win the presidency in 2008? The contenders for the Republican nomination, with the possible exception of fringe candidate Ron Paul, were as unappealing and unremarkable as any random selection of white, conservative, middle aged and elderly men. John McCain emerges as the winner and this excites no one, but this is what they have to work with.

John McCain has every political disadvantage imaginable as he faces down a Democratic contender. The incumbent Republican president is already being tagged by many as the worst president in American history. The US occupation of Iraq, the major part of the Bush II legacy, is also considered by many to be the worst political mistake made by a US president, and John McCain has been an enthusiastic supporter of this debacle. The remainder of the Bush legacy consists of colossal failures in every aspect of governance and at record breaking financial cost to the American taxpayers of today and tomorrow.

Middle and lower income Americans have nothing to gain from a Republican presidency that would essentially be a continuation of current economic and social policy. And most Americans have come to the conclusion that the US occupation of Iraq is costing money that could be better spent here at home. They might be opposed to "socialized medicine," but they are more than ready for the government to address the health care crisis in some manner that does not exclude 50 million Americans.

Even so, there is still good news for Republicans. Elections are about demographics and voter turnout, and they know that voter opinions are easily created and controlled using fear based politics. Even better, conservatives have an immense amount of support in mainstream media particularly at Fox News, and whatever message they choose to disseminate will reach tens of millions of people. So, all that is needed is a short, controversial video and an inexhaustible supply of pundits and hacks who can run their mouths forever and fan the flames.

So why did the right wing choose a race issue to launch their mainstream media war on Senator Obama? Because the exploitation of racism in the white majority is the easiest, most obvious, and most acceptable attack available to them. Furthermore, it is likely to be the most effective.

If you are in your forties or younger, you have no memory of segregation in America. That is difficult for me to imagine, because I grew up in the Deep South during the civil rights era, and images of Jim Crow are more or less seared into my brain. My parents and relatives were white racists, to be sure, but they were passive. Nonetheless, they were satisfied with segregation, and they did not concern themselves with any problems related to racial inequality. "That’s just the way things are," they would say. The Civil Rights movement only intensified their fear, the systemic fear that is ever present within the members of the "superior" race.

As a historical period, the civil rights era is relatively recent. Many of those who faced down the fire hoses, the dogs, and took the beatings are still in their 60’s. Senator Obama is part of the first generation of African Americans who have become the beneficiaries of the movement. Try to imagine his emotional connection to those people who risked their lives to give hope to the next generation.

I have said several times on this blog that, at this time, the possibility of an African American president is a fragile concept. Many white people who accepted segregation are still alive and they vote. Many younger people who did not grow up with segregation were taught to believe in white superiority and they vote too. But none of these people were going to vote for Obama anyhow, so how can the right wing use race to destroy the candidacy of Barack Obama?

I believe that what the right wing is exploiting is the residual fear of African Americans in the white majority.

Racism is easily defined but it can be subtle in its manifestations. The racism that I grew up with was raw, brutal, and exposed. Towards the end of the civil rights era, it was less exposed, but the hatred and the fear were the same or worse. Even as a child I understood that this form of racism would be part of southern culture until the more racially tolerant younger generation came of age and began raising families, and that is more or less what happened.

Racial equality can be legislated, but the process of social acceptance is evolutionary. We tend to believe there is widespread social acceptance of racial equality in 21st century America. Yet, there is massive evidence of racism that ranges from subtle to overt, the most extreme recent example being the handling of hurricane Katrina. Racism, in its present manifestations, is not diminishing. If anything, the residual fear of racial "others" in the white majority has been extended to other groups, particularly Mideastern people since 9/11.

The right wing conservatives who are trying to derail Senator Obama’s candidacy understand that they can capitalize on residual and new fears by showing the white majority that he is not one of them and he cannot be their leader. And, by repetition, they hope to amplify this fear so that a sufficient number of voters from the white majority discount the obvious deficiencies of the Republican candidate and the Republican party, and choose instead to prevent the ascension to the presidency of an individual who is not one of them.

The fact that the right wing has been able to create this "controversy" about Senator Obama with a video of his pastor and keep it going for several days shows how deep and pervasive this fear really is. Under most circumstances, reasonable people would not condemn a politician because his pastor gives fiery, controversial speeches. But the video is their solid evidence that Reverend Wright is a racial "other" and an adversary of the white majority straight out of the 60’s. By association, Senator Obama must be supportive of his views. Therefore, Senator Obama must not be the president.

The right wing is attempting to legitimize the residual fear of the white majority and assure them that they are not racist. They are decent people who love their country and they must protect it from radicals.

They must vote for the white patriot.

That is all they are trying to sell.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post, Liza.

The GOP is going to get hideous no matter who wins the nomination. Obama is the more difficult candidate and more dangerous for them to face because they risk looking worse. They use race now to pull him below Hillary.

Facing Hillary, they have a war chest of negatives and scandals and Hillary's pre-existing high negatives.

Against Obama, the tactic will be as you say, FEAR. They will work to cast him as something other than what people see.

Unless x4mr's "meltdown scenario" occurs in full glory, infuriating everyone, I think the democrats will win in November. I mean no disrespect, but McCain has one foot in the grave and is OBVIOUSLY just a continuation of Bush.

McBush is the last thing the country wants or needs.

3/22/2008 7:40 PM  
Blogger Liza said...

anon,
The GOP would rather face down Hillary, to be sure.

If Hillary were to somehow were to get the nomination, the presidential campaign for the November election will be a slugfest, dirty politics and nothing more.

If Obama gets the nomination, it will be fear based politics versus populism.

Obama's response to his right wing attackers was brilliant, and it is hardly what they expected. He bypassed the attackers and appealed directly to the American people. With world class oratory skills and an honest message, he made history. He is a force to be reckoned with.

I feel very confident that Obama can defeat McCain, but the "Hillary problem" is in the way right now. She is also engaged in fear based politics, and that is an obstacle to the populist momentum that is happening among Obama supporters.
She won't give up, and that is unfortunate.

3/23/2008 9:35 AM  
Blogger Liza said...

X4mr,
Thank you for elevating my comments to "post" status. I like the title and the pictures.

3/23/2008 9:39 AM  
Blogger x4mr said...

You're most welcome, and I wouldn't have "uploaded" if I didn't concur.

Holidays are slow blogger days. More people will see your remarks tomorrow. Perhaps some will comment.

3/23/2008 3:22 PM  
Blogger roger said...

I would only add that I think that this could be perceived as squarely in the Clinton camp again. I mean, what happened in SC was no accident nor has what has happened since with Clinton's campaign. The strategy since has been to force him into the role of the "black", specialist candidate. One that begins to win higher and higher percentages of black voters and lower and lower of White voters...especially poor and lower middle class with less education. What no one seems to want to say directly is that the strategy is working. As he became more and more defined as a black radical, he numbers went up among blacks and down among whites where race still matters and is problematic. It is why his numbers in Ohio were what they were, same thing in Texas, in Missouri (which he barely won), and it is what will happen in Penn. In each state the map was heavy dark blue (Obama's color on CNN) in the cities and heavy light blue in the rest of the states.

Obama HAS to make inroads there and stop the bleeding here. Otherwise, the Clinton strategy has worked...and it saddens me. He needs to camp in Penn and make a stop in every single county. He needs to do what Kennedy did in WV. Win the state and show that he can be attractive to poor and working class white voters.

I continue to worry and will say again...if Hillary steals this election with superdelegate voters and the seating of Mi and Florida, then I will have lost faith in ever being a part of the Democrat party...and may lose enough not to vote that way in the Fall.

3/23/2008 5:22 PM  
Blogger Liza said...

roger,
You are absolutely right that part of Clinton's "scorced earth" trashing of Obama had the "black candidate" component, and that was most definitely intended to secure the working class, uneducated whites who support her. The "pastor problem" has been out there for quite some time although the videos were just recently put up for sale. And, as far as I know, the Clintons were not involved in the Fox attack.

What I believe happened is that the Clintons have tried to keep the "black candidate" attack to a minimum, because African Americans are worth a lot of votes to a Democrat. However, the Clintons have already crossed the line and the African American vote is lost to them.

As I said earlier, Senator Obama is from the first generation of beneficiaries of the Civil Rights movement. To the older generations, he is the reason they risked their lives. To the younger generations, he is iconic. African Americans will not forgive the Clintons. The latest remark from Bill about Hillary and McCain being the "patriots" has really cost them, in addition to everything else they have done to tear Obama down. If Hillary somehow gets the nomination, Obama will give a nice speech about unity and so forth, but it won't help her.

Obama couldn't have won in Ohio, nor is he likely to win Pennsylvania and definitely not West Viriginia. We know the demographics of those two states. However, if the remaining primaries taken together are a wash, then he's still ahead in pledged delegates, and that is where many expect him to be.

I disagree with you that Obama has been "more and more defined as a black radical." When he gave his speech about race last week, the nation listened and proclaimed that history had been made. What you will soon learn is that a lot of them wrote checks. Obama is getting very close to two million in the number of contributors to his campaign. It is phenomenal.

Hillary is also experiencing some of her own problems with her phony claims about being so involved in foreign policy as a first lady. She has run a really dirty campaign since Iowa, and it has not gone unnoticed. Bill Richardson called it a "gutter campaign."

3/24/2008 4:25 PM  

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