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Mary Ann West

Mary Ann West

Posted: October 31, 2008 04:07 PM

Has the Presidential Campaign Finally Moved Beyond Race Or Do We Stay Stuck?


The phone rings, you answer and the Robo Call asks: "If you find it disturbing to think of long lines of African Americans who had been improperly registered?" This is the newest salvo from the Republican guns. Umm, are they referring to ACORN's registrations that have brought in tens of thousands of disenfranchised and underserved voters? Or are they trying to highlight the ten (10) registrations that the Bridgeport, CT Republican registrar has requested the SEEC to investigate? The choice is either we ignore the bores and move on or start talking about the issues important to this country or do we allow others to keep this conversation mired down unable to get past fear mongering. A forum was recently held asking if the Race question had been moved past race baiting and what was needed to move on or not. I would suspect the forum attendees would want to embrace the long lines of African Americans standing in line to vote, wouldn't you?

Currently in the CT 4th Congressional District a new Robo Call has been unleashed focusing on fear and race. The Republicans revolting blight by phone is in response to the tight race between Republican Chris Shays and Democrat Jim Himes. Tipping in the balance are the tight polling numbers between Shays and Himes. One has to ask; Are the Republican's willing to risk alienating voters that will determine whether Shays stays as the lone New England Endangered Species Republican or are they willing to allow him to become extinct? The abbreviated response from Himes office: "In the last days of an election, Republicans use dirty tricks to gain an edge. Last time around, Republicans bombarded voters with annoying robocalls that violated FEC rules. Chris Shays' own consultants, Jamestown Associates *, have a long record of dirty tricks, including a track record of phone tricks that play on racial prejudices. It looks like Republicans are getting ready to play on the worst kinds of prejudices."

One would think that given the dismal polling numbers in response to negative ads and tactics McCain and the Republicans have experienced this election they would refrain from insulting the intelligence of their constituents by running something a low brow as their newest Robo call, it's not just as Sarah Palin pointed out, ANNOYING! But they don't move the conversation forward.

The Race & Politics Forum recently held in Westport, CT. started asking the question that has yet to be answered. Here is my report. Anytime you ask a group of people questions around race and politics, interesting thoughts come out. Put together 30 or so from first time voting college students to octogenarians; Americans who are Caucasian, Hispanic, Black, Arab and you are bound to have a lively discussion, and they did.

Questions opened up for discussion in small groups included: Will there be retributive backlash among both black & white Americans if Obama is elected? Or not elected? Is the Mass Media victimizing the race issue and is the population buying into it? Can Americans overcome deep seated racism to vote on pocketbook issues instead? Are younger people part of the "Post Racial" generation?

Backlash: Most mentioned by the group was National Public Radio (NPR) interviews of a woman in a PA café who spoke of her fears of African Americans "Extracting Retribution" (a pure thread of racism) while claiming not to be racist, with the expectation of African American's hate welling up against white people when Obama is elected. Discussion from an African American man growing up in the south before and during desegregation speaking of the need to work twice as hard for half as much. A white woman empathetically spoke of how oppressive it must be to have layer upon layer of resentment put on people by the color of their skin and how we in America still discriminate by social and class values. The real backlash will be on the Election Day outcome, most expect a "Celebration in the Streets" across America when Obama is elected and in reverse, if McCain wins and the perception is they stole the election the sentiment is there will be a huge outpouring of "Protest in the Streets" not seen since Anti-War protests from the Vietnam era. The disappointment would be profound. No matter which Party wins, the reaction will cross all color lines and maybe now we can move on as a country.

Mainstream Media: Preying on citizens not well read enough to discriminate fact from fiction, unable to discriminate among the layers of nuanced messages to find the core truth. There are great concerns that the MSM is misrepresenting stereotypes and bottom feeding to get the headlines. By using an interview by someone in the public, it quickly melds into as a spokesperson representing an entire group of attendees. It's hard to change a perception in a 20-30 second sound bite. The media has the influence and social responsibility to not abuse their power, yet they will stick with a campaign spin (like Joe the unlicensed Plumber) when clearly viewers want to hear about real issues that affect them. There are real concerns about limited control to access citing Rupert Murdock's ownership of both Wall Street Journal and Fox News and to a further extent, "Net Neutrality" where large corporations own major internet sites. The bottom line, people watch what people want to hear but media needs to take charge of separating rhetoric from reality.

And the Post-Race Millennial's: Those who are aged between 18 & 29 this age group will help decide the next president and after 8 years of Bush regime. Each election cycle they have proven they can help get out the vote and candidates count on them to do so. They are more motivated, active, vocal and informed then any generation before them and racial tension is not a major issue. By the time they graduate from college most have very diverse experiences on economical, national and international platforms and a high degree of communication skills that keeps them engaged. The concerns of youth not voting in past history will be blown away in a record breaking year. Add youth to the elongating list of other voters pigeonholed like Latino, Gay, lesbian and Transgendered and Immigrants who can now be counted on to help swing a vote.

Are there consequences of voting for Obama because he is black or McCain because he is white for the wrong reasons? Just like 1960 when people voted for or against Kennedy because he was Catholic, will people vote for Obama just because he's Black? This could be a negative either way, with some voting as a step forward on the race issue while others not voting on policies that will help them in the future a.k.a. voting against one's best interests. In 2008, will people vote against McCain's health or Obama's safety? Only the election results and years of interviews and research will tell.

This was the second forum on Race & Politics; the notes from the first are included in the post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mary-ann-west/local-workshop-asks-are-w_b_117499.html

* On Jamestown Associates' dirty tricks: "How to Rig an Election: Confessions of a Republican Operative," Allen Raymond with Ian Spiegelman, 2008, Simon & Schuster [excerpt: http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/004957.php]

- Republicans admitted to being responsible for robocalls in 2006 ["Campaign robo calls push some to brink," Charles Walsh, Connecticut Post, November 3, 2006]