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Pundits are debating how or whether Obama should respond to the charges that he’s sexist, pigist, sex-crazed, and guilty of community organizing. But just about everybody I’ve talked to, from political advisers to people on the bus, thinks there’s a far more insidious message delivered in the Republicans’ scripted “defense” of small town values: this election is about whether to let the blacks take over.
Maybe this is just the laziest way to explain how the ticket that hasn’t laid out a single idea for addressing our economic woes somehow seems to be surging ahead. Maybe, in other words, it’s simply a premature, anxiety-driven playing of the race card.
After spending some time in Michigan over the last couple weeks, I’m not so sure. One family I know has lived for several generations in the small, white, conservative town across the lake where I grew up. The parents of the family, long disgusted by the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq and management of the economy, recently decided to put an Obama sign in their front yard. Not a week went by before the father of the family received an anonymous letter in the mail: “Your dad and uncle would roll over in their graves if they could see that sign in your yard.”
“I’ll tell you one thing,” the father of the family said. “The goddamn sign’s staying up now.”
Still, that kind of mainstreamed racial fear may grow into big, quiet trouble for Obama--especially since history suggests his current support could be overstated by the polls. In 2006 Michigan voters weighed in on a proposal to ban affirmative action in state business. Going into election day polls predicted it could go either way, but the measure ended up passing by a whopping 16 points. Many analysts concluded that people had exaggerated their racial tolerance to pollsters and then voted with their gut.
Obama may be forced to deliver another "This is what it means to be a black man" speech before this is over. On the other hand, money issues trump everything else in this country. If Obama relentlessly attacks McCain's apparent indifference to middle-class economic concerns, even the racial ugliness might not matter. Another guy, someone I went to high school with, had a talk a couple weeks ago with his conservative grandfather. The grandfather surprised him by declaring he’d had enough with Republican policies. “This year,” the grandfather said, “I’m voting for the [epithet].”