11/19/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Race Enters Race, Stage Right

Many of the numerous reasons why African Americans have so comprehensively rejected the Republican Party are now on display in the presidential campaign. Senator John McCain's campaign, directly and indirectly, is using race and, to a lesser extent religious bigotry, to prime voters around the country to enter the ballot box believing that Senator Barack Obama's race helps make him unfit for the presidency. In so doing, McCain and his running mate Sarah Palin have provided safe harbor to those racists among the electorate who are looking for a way to express their twisted view of people that don't look like them. They have transitioned from being candidates to magnets and the campaign is worse off as a result. What's sad about all this is that, given what we know about the role of race in American politics, is that it has worked before and should not be overlooked next month.

From Barry Goldwater's states' rights to Richard Nixon's "law and order" and from the Reagan Democrats to some of today's Obama-is-an-Arab Republicans, White working-class racial conservatives have voted against their economic self interest by responding to Republican candidates who talked the amorphous double entendre' language of racial politics - words and philosophies that have two meanings, racial and non-racial. The McCain campaign - as indicated by it's surrogates (including Republican Party leaders) and some staffers and voters - is determined to win by any means necessary. That includes the willingness to scare voters into believing that Obama is not in the tradition of (White male) American presidents and a terrorist sympathizer dedicated doing the bidding of Middle Eastern hatemongers who live to destroy the United States.

It may not matter now, though. The economic crisis now engulfing the country may lead some racially bigoted voters who might otherwise vote their worst instincts to open their eyes and vote their self-interests. Let's only hope.

Michael K. Fauntroy is an assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University and author of the book Republicans and the Black Vote.