A New Albany resident was recently quoted, in the Chicago Tribune, to say he would not vote for Barack Obama "mainly because he's black." His candor has highlighted an obvious subtext for this presidential election. I don't believe most people are blatantly racist, but racism still flows through our society and every so often it percolates to the surface. Our antique dealer happened to bring it out into the open. For that ingenuosness, he is being held up as a poster child for atavistic rubes, hicks and lowlifes. If John McCain had a crack at him, perhaps he'd call him Joe the Antique Dealer.
This man's essential Joe-ness, spread throughout the land, is the reason why the presidential race has maintained some semblance of a real contest. On paper, Barack Obama outclasses McCain in organization, ideas, inspiration, character and vision for the country. McCain carries the genuine banner of failure, a handoff from the generally recognized holder of the title "Worst President in the History of the United States". He also carries the counterfeit banner of Maverick.
* Obama lives in a stable marriage. McCain dumped his wife when an automobile accident left her scarred and less attractive than she had been on their wedding day.
* Obama and his wife, in just the last several years, paid off their student loans. Cindy McCain recently ran up a $750,000 (that's correct, seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars) bill on her American Express account IN ONE MONTH. Her daughter, the piker (not a Palin child) ran up a $150,000 Amex bill.
* Obama had an outrageous pastor and served on a board with a sixties radical. McCain's vice, Sarah Palin, spoke to an Alaskan secessionist group which did and still does advocate the violent expulsion of the U.S. government from Alaska, Palin's husband was a member of the Alaska Independence Party; the motive of the group is to retain all the vast wealth of the state for the Alaskans themselves.
Many more of these couplets could be laid out to show the superiority of Obama over McCain, and yet the race remains tight. The wild woman from Minnesota had to be brought back to earth by McCain himself because she thought Obama was "an Arab". Some of Joe the Antique Dealer's less reserved brethren have shouted such bon mots as "traitor", "terrorist" and "kill him" when Obama's name is mentioned at McCain/Palin rallies. Why is it so hard to believe that a hapless antique dealer in New Albany, Indiana would be moved to say that he isn't voting for Obama, "mainly because he's black"? Would it be better if he weren't voting for him because he's a "terrorist", or a "traitor"? Is he not measurably more civilized then the dimwit who shouted "kill him", or the poetic dimwit who shouted "off with his head"?
The McCain campaign has set its sights on winning the presidency in the worst way. The campaign finds it necessary to distract, dissemble and divide in order to peel away voters whose interests are more naturally aligned with Democratic orthodoxy, from Obama and leave them in play for McCain. They can't do it on qualifications. They need a wedge. Obama, by his very existence, offers the biggest, meanest, most heinous wedge in the American electoral repertoire: his race; unfortunately, none dare speak the name openly. Better to be a stupid hick who confuses Obama and Osama, better to label, as Michelle Bachman did, liberals as un-American than to say you aren't going to vote for Obama because he's black. The modern-day Republican playbook has been discussed in Thomas Frank's "What's the Matter With Kansas?" Frank points out that on issue after issue Democrats offer real solutions of real benefit to the Joe's of the world and yet, at the national level especially, Republicans continue to rack up victories because, on gut-level, visceral issues such as abortion and gay marriage, voters say "they share my values"; translation: they are more like me. The reality is that the candidate who lives by the wedge issue almost never delivers the voter from the supposed plague the wedge signifies.
How many times have we heard that "my grandfather came here and he made it without any affirmative action", or words to that effect? How many times have we heard hateful words thrown out to describe people not like ourselves? How do we even decide which non-shared trait will be the one deserving our mocking, derision or hate? I'm sure Joe the Antique Dealer's prejudice does not actually reflect hatred of black people. I say that having never met the man. And yet the sentiment that he won't vote for Obama because, "mainly he's black" offend. They offend the ear, they offend people he has never met, they offend the very concept of this nation.
But wait, the very concept of this nation is founded on inequality. The Constitution allowed slavery. Black slaves were counted as "three fifths" of a white citizen when doling out congressional seats. The Civil War was our crucible from which a new nation of equality was supposed to emerge. Look around. It didn't happen. This presidential race is the most potent ammunition we have to push racism further out on the fringe of society. Obama's presidency will be many things, but one of them will be a lesson that we have wasted far too many lives through bigotry and narrow horizons. I hope Joe the Antique Dealer is open to learning.