10/10/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Elephant In The Room

There is a political elephant in the room.

He's pretty big, but everyone walks around him, acting as if he doesn't exist. The newscasters hint at it. Bloggers slightly address it. Newspaper pundits lightly discuss it. Sunday morning news shows dodge it. But a few--just a few--magazines, like Newsweek and New York, have taken on the subject in-depth.

The elephant's name is Race.

And the man and soccer mom on the street, that is, the average voter, talks about it constantly--at the water cooler, the cocktail reception, in the board room, while hanging on the corner, in the lunchroom and at the dinner party.

The voters see the elephant. Many of them ask, "Do you think they will begin to talk about the elephant?"

At the dinner party, one might ask, "Do you think America is really ready for a Black President?" On a blog someone wrote, "I have several friends who will not vote for Obama based on his race and his Muslim name." Some people are still racist and while the race card argument does not hold water completely, there are grains of truth to it.

On one of the late night news programs, there was a North Carolina redneck type. He was a Southerncrat and in good ol' boy mode, he analyzed the race. He gave one of the most honest assessments, from his viewpoint, I have heard. The question was would Barack beat McCain. He said: Barack, the intelligent man would beat McCain. He said Barack, the charismatic man would beat McCain. He even said Barack, the man, would beat McCain the war hero. But then he said, Barack the Black man would not beat McCain. He said it just wouldn't happen. He spoke with authority and confidence.

Now that the Democratic and Republican conventions are over, it is time to deal with the elephant. The Republicans upset the elephant with a gimmick. A female one. She is off center, not the traditional woman, who is prim and proper. She is Annie Oakley in a bikini. Vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is a wild card and her voter impact is unknown. She provides an excuse. She is no Hillary Clinton, but she does represent Middle America. She insults some women; to others, she will have appeal. But at the end of the day, she is a wild card and her job is to pull the undecided vote and the angry women voters who cracked the sexist glass ceiling.

Sarah Palin, vice presidential candidate, could possibly be president. That is frightening. Be clear: She is running against Barack, not Biden.

In her acceptance speech, she compared her career experience to Barack's, not Biden's. She compared being mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, her hometown of 7,000, to Barack's community organizing experience. There are Chicago Aldermen with larger wards.

Sarah Palin brings "diversity" to the Republican ticket.

Some think Biden will be too much of a gentleman to go after Catwoman, but he should treat her just like he would treat a gent in a suit and play hardball. She will. The self-proclaimed 'pit bull in lipstick' will claw his eyes out while wearing black boots and clutching a whip. Her real purpose is to counter the elephant. The code language has kicked in. This is a bit tricky, but the "image" race is McCain against Biden, white man to white man. But Sarah is running against Barack, minority to minority: The 'white woman' against the 'black man.' Hello, History!

Barack probably won't attack her, because he is not running against her and he is too much of a gentleman. He will play above it, but somebody had better play to it. There is an elephant in the room. The last thing you want is for Barack, the gentle intelligent one, to act like an angry black man. But is it OK for Biden to be an angry Irishman and attack Catwoman?

The race is on in more ways than one. It is real and there are no sure bets. Watch the polls; Barack's numbers did not increase after his European visit, neither did they increase after the perfect Democratic convention. But after the Republican convention, McCain has taken a lead in the polls. Barack is raising more money and hopefully, he will advertise on everything moving. But there is an elephant in the room.

Barack needs to pay attention to a base of Black voters, not to take them for granted. Black America needs to be addressed on its key issues. Forty-six percent of Black America did not vote in the last presidential race.

The -isms are running for high office as much as the candidates themselves. People will judge these -isms. The 2008 election will produce a historic race no matter what. We will elect the first African-American president, or the oldest-ever president. And in the process, we have advanced the demise of racism and sexism, but the elephant is in the room, thudding clumsily through it, blindly distracting voters everywhere.

Do not ignore the elephant.

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