Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Will the Southern Strategy Go West?

Ian Williams: Let’s hope the race card is no longer a Republican ace
October 26, 2008 12:02 Tribune

ACCORDING to an opinion poll in The Guardian last week, a commendable 65 per cent of British voters would prefer an Obama victory in the US election. In a way, it is almost a shame the long-term project of making Britain the 51st state has not gone so far as to merit electoral votes. However, a sense of perspective is called for. In any European context, the policies of Obama make Tony Blair look like a raving Trot. But, of course, the Democrats are not running in Europe, and looking at how John McCain has embraced the right, let alone the frightening prospect of Sarah Palin being a heartbeat away from the nuclear button, changes the equation.

The launch of the Republican Party’s latest Swift Boat armada at ACORN, a voter registration group dedicated to bringing out the vote, starkly illustrates the choice. Some background is in order. Only just over 70 per cent of white Americans are registered to vote and that number decreases down to a little over a half of Asian-Americans. Those unregistered tend to be poorer – and a disproportionate number are black.

ACORN pays canvassers to get voter registration forms filled and it is clear that some of their employees decided to use their imagination and take the money for bringing in forms with fictitious names and addresses. By law, ACORN has to hand in all the forms – otherwise it would be accused of weeding out, for example, potential Republican voters, but it flagged the suspicious ones. Now it is confronted with false outrage, fanned by Republican officials, who brandish the very forms that ACORN had identified as false, to “prove” electoral fraud. However, what really upsets the conservatives is not the false registrations. It is ACORN’s 1.3 million genuine registrations of people unlikely to vote Republican.

It is highly unlikely that Mickey Mouse will turn up to vote, and the numbers of proven actual voter frauds are infinitesimal, but with the talent for conflation that elides tax breaks for billionaires with reducing the burden on small businesses, those running the McCain campaign are pre-emptively trying to throw the outcome of the election into doubt. They are also shamelessly riding the chimera of voter fraud to do what they do best: voter suppression. Across the states, Republican officials have been piling obstacles in the way of people trying to register and it is no coincidence that many of those are black.

The Republican Party, the party of Abraham Lincoln is now, we hope, taking a curtain call on Richard Nixon’s southern strategy – the use of coded racism to win elections. But it has been a major part of the McCain strategy. When Palin speaks of “community organisers” with scorn, her audiences know exactly which community is being organised – and they do not like it. Even though most of the far-too-many poor in the United States are white, when McCain scorns Obama’s policies as redistributive, the resentment that he is inculcating is of black welfare dependency.

There may be racism in Britain, but nothing to match the highly codified and institutionalised form it takes in the US. Obama actually benefits from the foreign-ness of his black origins: he overcame resistance to the allegedly “angry black” from the ’hood of American “indigenous” blacks – and neither he nor his parents had to ride the back of the bus in the Southern states.

The Republican response, for example, through attacks on his church, has been to re-establish the connection, to try to make him black, African-American and so elicit the assured racist response. It is far less successful than it would have been 20 years ago, which is one of the signs of hope in a country that often seems to be retrogressing to medievalism. Nevertheless, the Republicans have not given up hope. While only a few brave voters with the courage of their prejudices say they won’t vote for Obama because he is black, the McCain campaign can now cover them with the more socially acceptable racism of anti-Islam and anti-Arabism. Phone canvassers for Obama report a disturbing number of voters who claim he is a Muslim, Arab or both, quite apart from the attempt to connect him to “terrorism”.

In a country where 70 per cent of the population were convinced that Saddam Hussein was behind September 11 simply by the juxtaposition of his picture with Osama bin Laden and the burning World Trade Centre, McCain’s campaign is pushing the “terrorist” connection as much as it can, knowing this will ignite that undergrowth of chauvinism. McCain’s Nixonian facial tics during the last presidential debate signal a guilty conscience. As the victim of similar sliming efforts when he ran against George Bush for the Republican nomination in 2000, McCain must know how despicable his campaign’s tactics are – and it explains his anger against Obama, whose success has “made” him resort to them. With his nationwide campaign, wide voter involvement and youthful support, Obama signals the rejection of the darker side of American politics. It is understandable that people at the election of a black President of the US would suggest that the long, dark night of American slavery, racism and their corrosive effects might be over. It may not be the second coming, but in evangelical terms, it is the end of the reign of Anti-Christ.

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