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Earl Ofari Hutchinson Headshot

Even Obama's Dog Draws Racial Fire

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The racial pillorying of first Lady Michelle Obama was bad enough. The occasional snide digs and ugly depictions of the Obama's daughters were even more despicable. But now the presidential family's pet Portuguese Water Dog, Bo, has taken heat. A Brown University social scientist used polling experiments and an independent survey to identify a series of issues that have been bitter and contentious between Obama and the GOP and that are seemingly race-neutral such as tax policy, health care reform, Supreme Court appointments, and political party identification. He found that those with a racial antipathy toward blacks were more prone to oppose anything that Obama supported. That racial antipathy even extended to his dog. To test this, the Brown researcher showed a picture of the Obama's dog to one half of the test group. He showed the same picture to the other half but told them that it was a picture of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy's pet Portuguese Water Dog, Splash. Those hostile toward Obama were much more likely to express disdain toward Obama's dog than that of Kennedy's presumed pet.

At first glance, it seems trite, silly and, well, petty. But it is anything but. The never-ending assault on the Obamas has been the one constant from the moment that Obama declared his presidential candidacy in 2007. It did not hamper his drive to the White House in part because GOP presidential rival John McCain categorically forbade any use of overt or subtle racial appeals by his campaign team during the campaign. The disgust, revulsion, and apathy of many GOP-leaning voters and conservative independents toward the domestic and foreign policy bumbles and stumbles of Bush, and the GOP's sex, and corruption scandals, and giveaway to Wall Street, neutered the overt racial animus of many voters. But even that was misleading.

The final presidential vote in 2008 gave ample warning of the potency of the GOP's conservative white constituency when aroused. While Obama made a major breakthrough in winning a significant percent of votes from white independents and young white voters, McCain still won a majority of their vote. Overall, Obama garnered slightly more than 40 percent of the white male vote. Among Southern and Heartland America white male voters, Obama made almost no impact. In South Carolina and other Deep South states the vote was even more lopsided among white voters against Obama. The only thing that even made Obama's showing respectable in those states was the record turnout and percentage of black votes that he got. They were all Democratic votes.

A Harvard post-election assessment of the 2008 presidential vote found that race did factor into the presidential election and that it cost Obama an added 3 to 5 percent of the national popular vote. Put bluntly, if Obama had been white the election would have been a route.

The quick surge of the Tea Party in the aftermath of Obama's election with its thinly disguised race-baiting digs, taunts, slogan, offensive parodying, posters, and depictions of Barack and Michelle Obama were early warning signs that race was not off the presidential election table. During the GOP presidential primary campaign GOP presidential candidates made sure of that with the stream of race-tinged references Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Mitt Romney made to food stamps, welfare, work ethics, and an entitlement society. Then there were the racially-loaded newsletters from Ron Paul that resurfaced. The candidates, when challenged, ducked, dodged, and denied any racial intent, or in the case of Paul's newsletter, that he even penned them.

GOP presidential candidates for the past three decades have crunched the voter numbers and the statistics. The GOP base is the white South and the Heartland. They deliver more than one-third of the electoral votes needed to bag the White House. These are the also the voters that GOP presidents and aspiring presidents -- Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr. George W. Bush, and John McCain and legions of GOP governors, senators and congresspersons -- banked on for victory and to seize and maintain regional and national political dominance. They haven't disappointed them. Racial code talk has been a key weapon in the GOP's campaign arsenal. It has been the spark to reignite the GOP's traditional conservative, lower income, white male loyalists. A legion of well-heeled GOP Super PACS will spend millions on below-the-belt-hit ads on Obama before November. Almost certainly some of them will go even lower into the gutter and dredge up the bogus birth certificate ploy and his long-severed relationship with his former pastor Jeremiah Wright.

The Brown University survey simply reconfirmed the horrid fact that President Obama's public policy stances and battles have been relentlessly clouded, obstructed and opposed by subtle and overt racial perceptions and animus. It's no surprise then that the Obama's family dog has drawn racial fire, too.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent MSNBC Political Contributor and weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK Radio-Pacifica Network.