Monday, June 10, 2024

Why McCain Did Not Go for Obama’s Racial Jugular…

October 16, 2008 by  
Filed under News, Politics, Weekly Columns

( A handful of top advisors in the McCain camp were perplexed at their boss’s flat refusal to again slam Democratic rival Barack Obama on his ties to his former pastor Jeremiah Wright. Instead they picked the race neutral target of former Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers, and tried to tie Obama to him. That ploy had no public or media legs.

A GOP official explained that McCain did dredge up the Wright-Obama connection because he did not want to be seen as a racist. That’s probably true, but in a close to the wire election, a candidate will grab at any weapon to get an edge, and the GOP has never flinched at using race as a weapon when it suited its purpose. And indeed McCain’s running mate Sarah Palin chomped at the bit to snatch at the Wright issue. But the word was hands off.

There are several reasons suggested why Palin and the GOP did not go for the racial jugular with Obama. One reason offered is that the GOP is smitten with racial guilt too. The idea that Obama benefits unduly from that has been much talked about, and probably much overblown

Psychologists say guilt stems from a deep feeling on the part of an individual who committed a wrong through neglect, dislike, or injury to another. It manifests itself in anxiety, remorse, anguish, and depression. Obama is a candidate for president, not an innocent victim who someone splattered on the side of the road in an accident, or a child or relative that someone harmed and now feels an acute need for atonement. In this case the atonement would be to vote for Obama solely to make up for the decades of racial abuse heaped on blacks. That’s a stretch.

Obama’s hardly the first African-American politician who’s gotten elected wholly or with substantial white votes. The list stretching back years to Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley to Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick is legion. Former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. in his run for the U.S. Senate is oft cited as a victim of white polling voting booth duplicity. Yet he still got more than 40 percent of the white vote in his election defeat.

Obama’s fresh face, new politics pitch for hope, change, and unity touched a nerve with whites, especially young whites. This has nothing to do with race, let alone any guilt over slavery or lynchings. These atrocities are simply too far removed in time and space from whites, especially young whites, to feel any need to do an Election Day mea culpa.

A more accurate reason why McCain pulled the racial punch is political fear. Obama pretty much took race off the table when he early on publicly warned to be on the alert for any naked race baiting by the GOP. Since Democrats, much of the public and the media, was now on guard against a blatant race baiting appeal by the GOP, playing race would blow up in the party’s face.

McCain didn’t need to take that risk anyway. There are still enough unreconstructed bigots who don’t need subliminal cues, code words, much less crude appeals to vote bigotry. They openly say they will not vote for an African-American solely because of race. The Internet certainly bristles with racial hate knocks against Obama. And there are some who profess to wear racial blinders but will not vote for Obama, again because of race.

The irony is that by pulling the racial punch Obama for the most part was exempted from a too sharp scrutiny of his past, politics, performance record in the Illinois legislature and the Senate, as well as not demanding to know how he’ll implement the changes he says he’s about once in the White House.

Yet, if it is a choice between using race to club Obama or simply ignoring it and in the process lightly tipping around his inconsistencies, reversals, and compromises on some crucial issues than it is a choice worth making. A candidate, Obama, or any other, should not win or lose an election race because of race. When that happens the voters not the candidate are the real losers.

McCain went out of his way at one of his campaign rallies to tell a few loudmouths to knock off the race tinged bashing of Obama. That was the right thing to do. And once Palin got the word not to tar Obama with Wright again she made no more mention his name. That was also the right thing to do. If McCain can’t win the presidency by hitting Obama hard on the legitimate issues of the economy, the war, health care, taxes, and the Wall Street meltdown, then he doesn’t deserve to win. Race in that case wouldn’t have helped him anyway.

Written By Earl Ofari Hutchinson

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