As electoral race nears, media dissects race as a voting issue
After appearing on Brendan McLaughlin's political show Flashpoint a few weeks ago to talk about race and the presidential election, I decided to whip up a column based on some of the ideas I floated there.
That column is running Sunday in our perspective section, but I'm offering a preview hre, because it seem a lot of news outlets are talking a lot about how race is going to affect the presidential election.
First, the buzz was worrisome, wondering if race wasn't the reason why Barack Obama wasn't blowing away his Republican opponent in an election year where the bad news keeps piling up for the GOP and John McCain keeps stumbling over himself in his campaign.
Now some pollsters are saying racists may not like Obama, but they care more about other issues. Or that people are voting for Obama because they like the idea of voting for a black man (I'm particularly tickled by people who criticize Obama oters on this point, but then insist they aren ot opposing Obama simply because he's black. Can you have that issue both ways?)
Since nobody really seems to know what they're talking about, here's my particularly uninformed theories on why race may not be such a big issue for Obama atfer all.
The Do the Right Thing effect - I named this for the moment in Spike Lee's legendary film where he confronts a racist pizzeria operator with the observation that the guy makes awful comments about black people but loves Prince, Eddie Murphy and Magic Johnson. To see it, click here.
"It's different," John Turturro's Pino Frangione insists. "Magic, Eddie, Prince are not niggers...They're not really black. They're black but they're not really black. They're more than black. To me, it's different."
And that's a dynamic no one can measure. It's been my experience as the occasional object of racism that there are some folks who don't like the collectino of stereotypes they think represent the average black person, but feel differently about specific black people they feel they know, especially celebrities.
It's something people of color face every day: you're a symbol to the world until you get famous enough that you're not.
The Reverse Bradley Effect - Okay, this one is a little less likely, I admit. But the Bradley effect is a dynamic named for Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley, a black politician who went into a tough election for governor doing well in the polls but lost when the votes were counted, leading some to assume peopel lied to poll-takers for fear of being labelled racist.
But twenty years later, the script has flipped. We are, after all, in an election season where Republicans and even Democrats like Geraldine Ferraro insist Obama is getting widespread support mostly because of his race. (Can anyone imagine, even a year ago, someone making Ferraro's claim that a black presidential candidate named Barack Hussein Obama was "lucky" to have his racial background, with a straight face?)
So maybe there are some folks planning to vote for Obama who don't want to admit it.
Already, we see conservatives such as Peggy Noonan and David Brooks saying much harsher things about GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in semi-private settings than they do in their newspaper columns and on TV. Christopher buckley has to resign from the National Review, the magazine his dad William F. founded, after writing a column endorsing Obama for a web site.
What if some conservatives, turned off by John McCain's campaign but fearful of blowback, make a similar choice in the voting booth?
The George Wallace Effect -- Like Hillary Clinton before him, Republican John McCain has tried to reference Obama's difference without mentioning race, emphasizing his loose connections to "domestic terrorist" William Ayers and repeatedly asking "Who is the real Barack Obama?" as if two years on the campaign trail hadn't provided a few answers.
But McCain is discovering what Clinton also learned the hard way -- such attacks embolden supporters who really are racist, making others who are uneasy about Obama feel as if they are falling in league with bigots. Watch here as McCain is forced to rebuke a supporter who seems to be regurgitating the 9/11-tinged fears the GOP has been stoking for months, sticking up for Obama as a solid family man (as the Daily Show noted wryly last night: Why didn't McCain explain that many Arabs are trustworthy people, too?).
It's yet another irony in one of history's most bizarre elections: The black candidate can't really talk about race without being accused of race baiting, and the Republican candidate can't indulge in the typical GOP-style coded race baiting because everyone knows what he's doing.
If you dare, click here to see David Alan Grier's sidesplitting take on it all, prepared for his hilarious nwew Comedy Central show Chocolate News debuting at 10:30 tonight.