11/20/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The GOP and Race

Over the past weekend, sold-out audiences in Los Angeles attended an L.A. Theater Works production of Norman Corwin's The Rivalry, a radio play about the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. Lincoln was the anti-slavery candidate of the newly-formed Republican Party that stood for racial equality through the end of the 19th century. But in the past 100 years, the GOP has reversed course and, denials to the contrary, most of the time, it has been on the wrong side of racial harmony. In convention after presidential nominating convention, it has displayed an unwillingness to welcome African Americans into the Republican Party's rank and file. Last August's response from its mostly white delegates on the floor to Rudy Giuliani's scorn of Barack Obama's experience as a community organizer was an example of the ugliness that prevents the GOP from crossing the Rubicon.

It is now faced with the probability that its candidate for president most likely will be defeated by the first African American ever to occupy the White House. Conceivably, John McCain and his party could stand up for integrity by disassociating themselves in the next few weeks from the scurrilous tactics the GOP used four years ago in Ohio to deny the election to John Kerry. But it is unlikely. It is using the same deceptive techniques again this year in an effort to whittle down Obama's lead in most national polls. But it is time to 'fess up. America is neither a banana republic nor a heavy-handed dictatorship of the kind I have seen and lived under at different times of my career where elections were rigged routinely.

If Obama's election is denied him because of a) racism or b) the electoral dishonesty that was prevalent in 2004, African Americans will be justified in believing the United States is a whites-only society in which the door to the White House always will be shut to them. That, I believe, is not what this country stands for.

On March 25, 1965, from the steps of the Alabama state capitol, I reported the arrival of Martin Luther King as thousands of white and black supporters ended their historic march from Selma. It paved the way for passage by the U.S. Congress of the legislation that for the first time ensured African Americans the right to vote in nationwide elections, thereby changing the nature of American political life for all time.

An Obama victory next month could verify the willingness of American voters to take the next courageous step forward, of overcoming issues of race, class and sectarian differences in the most important election in our history. At a time when America's respect around the world has dipped to an all-time low, we can demonstrate that while our government has not won any popularity contests lately, as a people, we are capable of gestures that only are possible in a true democracy. We actually may accomplish something that few countries have been capable of doing until now. Imagine choosing an American leader who knows how to listen and at the same time to be listened to for a change? Wouldn't that be refreshing after eight years of being subjected to arrogance, deception and lies?

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