Monday, September 15, 2008

Ugly Side of Campaign '08: Racial Animus Against Obama Can No Longer Be Ignored

From Comments Laced with Racial Overtones, to Obama Campaign Offices Hit by Racist Vandals, to an Anti-Obama Book Author Linked to White Supremacists, to Death Threats and Alleged Assassination Plots, It's Clear that Some People Cannot Countenance a Black President Occupying the White House

The Farmers for Obama headquarters in Vincennes, Ind., was vandalized on the eve of that state's May 6 primary.

TOP: A volunteer for the Barack Obama campaign scrapes graffiti from the entrance of an Obama campaign office in Vincennes, Indiana on the morning of the state's May 6 Democratic primary. The offices were hit by vandals the night before, who smashed windows and spray-painted racist graffiti. BOTTOM: A portion of the vandalism at the home of an Obama campaign volunteer in Marshalltown, Iowa that was discovered last Christmas Eve prior to the Iowa caucuses in January. Since then, at least three other Obama campaign offices in Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota have been similarly vandalized with smashed windows and racist graffiti. (Photos courtesy The Washington Post and the Marshalltown Times-Republican)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EDT Monday, September 15, 2008)
(Updated 11:00 a.m. EDT Tuesday, September 16, 2008)


A Republican lawmaker came under sharp criticism last month over using the racially charged term "uppity" to describe Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle.

Another Republican was forced to apologize after he referred to Obama with the racially offensive term, "boy."

A former Democratic congresswoman said that if Obama was white, "he would not be in this position."

Even Obama's vice-presidential running mate, Senator Joe Biden -- while a rival for the Democratic presidential nomination earlier this year -- referred to the Illinois senator as "the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy."


The Illinois senator has gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid making his race an issue in the campaign -- even when he was forced to confront the race issue head-on in the controversy over incendiary comments made by his former pastor, the now-retired Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

But the race issue is one that simply will not go away -- and it is likely to loom larger as the nation draws closer to November 4. The Obama camp -- try as it might -- can no longer ignore it.

And neither can the mainstream news media.


The 'Skeeter Bites Report has learned that CNN anchor Lou Dobbs, while attending a Values Voters summit over the weekend in Washington, purchased a box of so-called "Obama Waffles" that features racist charactures of the Illinois senator. A photograph of Dobbs was taken down from the Web site of the Family Research Council, the conservative organization that hosted the summit -- but not before snapped a screen shot of the photo -- which is shown below:

(More details about the "Obama Waffles " boxes below.)



In an election cycle that is the most promising for the Democrats since the Lyndon Johnson landslide of 1964 -- a cycle in which the Republicans already have all but conceded that the Democrats will tighten their grip on both houses of Congress -- Obama should be cruising toward a landslide victory on November 4.

Consider these factors:

# President Bush will leave office in January with the worst job-approval ratings of any president in modern American history, even worse than those of Richard Nixon when he resigned in 1974, disgraced by Watergate.

# The economy is tottering on the brink of a recession, if not already in one -- which could end up the worst in a generation -- as unemployment soars and worries mount about the solvency of a growing number of major financial institutions.

# The war in Iraq remains deeply unpopular, despite McCain's adamant insistence that there be no timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops -- and Palin's even more strident insistence on "victory" in Iraq.

# The Bush administration has been rocked to its foundations by an unfolding sex-and-drugs scandal in the Interior Department, in which department staffers stand accused of cavorting with oil company bigwigs -- having sex with them and using illegal drugs.

Against this backdrop, the Republican brand is mud. Even House GOP leader John Boehner of Ohio acknowledged that Republicans faced a steeply uphill fight to keep from losing more seats to the Democrats -- a tacit admission that the GOP has no chance of recapturing control of Congress.

Yet incredibly, in what should be a banner year for the Democrats, the contest for the White House is a neck-and-neck cliffhanger.

That Obama and McCain are so close -- with the latest polls even showing McCain with a slight lead in spite of the Republicans' dismal prospects downticket -- defies all sensible logic. But throughout America's history, there has, unfortunately, been one element that has always defied sensible logic: The politics of race.

There's simply no other way to explain why this presidential contest is so close. The fact that Obama is black -- and that some people have a problem with a black man running for the White House -- is a factor in this contest.

It is foolish to deny it any longer.


To argue that Obama's race isn't an issue is akin to denying that hurricanes erupt in the summer and blizzards bury the landscape in the winter. There has been a steady stream of racially-charged incidents against the Obama campaign all year -- and they're likely to increase as the election draws closer.

The loose lips about Obama's race aren't confined to politicians. Countless online message boards are littered with anti-Obama screeds dripping with racially-tinged venom -- much of it quite overt.

The author of a highly controversial anti-Obama book was revealed to have ties to white supremacists -- even going so far as to promote his book on a white-supremacist Internet radio show.

Obama campaign offices in at least four states -- and even the home of an Obama supporter in Iowa -- were attacked by vandals who smashed windows and spray-painted racist graffiti. Other Obama campaign offices had to be evacuated after telephoned bomb threats.

Obama campaign volunteers -- including a daughter of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy -- have been subjected to racist taunting by hecklers.

Most disturbing of all, law-enforcement agencies have on at least two occasions arrested people on suspicion of plotting to assassinate Obama. And in both instances, the suspects -- all of them white -- made racist comments about the Illinois senator.

Obama was granted full Secret Service protection in January -- far earlier than any other presidential candidate in the 40 years since Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated on the campaign trail -- in response to the senator and his family receiving numerous death threats.


Representative Lynn Westmoreland (R-Georgia) caused a stir when he used the word "uppity" to describe Michelle Obama during a conversation with reporters just outside the House chamber, according to The Hill, the weekly newspaper that covers Congress.

The newspaper reported that Westmoreland, making a comparison between Michelle Obama and Sarah Palin, the GOP vice-presidential nominee, said of the first lady hopeful, "Just from what little I've seen of her and . . .Senator Obama, they're a member of an elitist class . . .that thinks that they're uppity."

Westmoreland spokesman, Brian Robinson, said the congressman was using the Webster's dictionary meaning of the word and was unaware of its racial overtones.

"He meant the Webster's definition of 'uppity.' He didn't mean anything racially tinged or anything used as a code word," Robinson said in an interview with CNN. "He never heard the term used in a racially derogatory sense. He used the word as a synonym for elitist, which he stands by."

The Obama campaign said it took no racial offense. But for generations of African-Americans, the word "uppity" has almost always been followed by the even more racially-explosive N-word -- "nigger."

Next to the N-word, the second-worst thing that a white person can say to or about a black person is to call him "boy."

Yet that's exactly what Representative Geoff Davis (R-Kentucky) said about Obama at the state's annual Lincoln Day dinner in April.

Saying that was unimpressed with Obama's performance during a war simulation for members of Congress, Davis said, "That boy's finger does not need to be on the button. He could not make a decision in that simulation that related to a nuclear threat to this country."

When Davis' comment was leaked to the media, the subsequent outcry forced Davis to apologize to Obama in a written statement.


Republicans aren't the only ones wrestling with issues of race and language.

Former President Bill Clinton drew sharp criticism in January -- including a blistering rebuke by The 'Skeeter Bites Report -- when he compared Obama's win in the South Carolina Democratic primary to Jesse Jackson's wins there in 1984 and 1988.

This blogger predicted then that the former president's remark would alienate African-American voters -- the Democrats' most loyal constituency -- and cost his wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, the Democratic nomination.

Former congresswoman and 1984 Democratic vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro became persona non grata in many Democratic circles after she told the Daily Breeze, a newspaper in Torrance, California, earlier this year: "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position."

Ferraro resigned from the Clinton campaign's finance committee in the ensuing controversy, but remains fiercely unapologetic about her remarks -- which she also leveled at Jackson in 1988. Ferraro was very conspicuous by her absence from the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

In an interview with the New York Observer last year, even Senator Joe Biden -- while he was still competing with Obama for the Democratic nomination -- referred to the Illinois senator as "the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy."

Obama forgave Biden -- well enough to tap the veteran Delaware senator as his running mate.


It's been weeks since Jerome Corsi came out with his highly controversial anti-Obama book, whose title -- The Obama Nation -- was itself an abomination.

On August 18, this blogger broke the story that the Illinois senator was seriously considering taking legal action against Corsi for libel and defamation.

The Obama Nation "goes far beyond a political hatchet job by containing statements that Corsi knows are untrue and doesn't have a shred of evidence to back them up," said a source close to the Obama campaign.

"That constitutes a reckless disregard for the truth, which -- combined with Corsi's avowed aim to destroy Obama's election prospects -- in my opinion meets the legal definition of libel," the source said.

Since then, however, it was revealed that Corsi -- who dwells extensively in his book about Obama's white, Kansas-born mother Ann Dunham's two interracial marriages, first to the Illinois senator's African father from Kenya and later to his Asian stepfather from Indonesia -- has ties to white supremacists.

Corsi has been making the rounds of white-supremacist Internet media outlets to promote his book, including the "Political Cesspool" online radio show of the "white nationalist" group, Stormfront, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors right-wing extremist groups, and the radio show's own Web site.


In recent months, the racial animus against Obama has grown uglier -- and more violent. In a story published in May -- and posted on The 'Skeeter Bites Report and many other Web sites -- The Washington Post reported that several Obama campaign offices in Indiana, Kentucky and Pennsylvania were attacked by vandals who smashed windows and spray-painted racist graffiti.

The newspaper also reported that Obama campaign volunteers were subjected to racial taunts by hecklers.

Among the Obama volunteers subjected to such taunting included documentary filmmaker Rory Kennedy, the daughter of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who said she came across "a lot of racism" when campaigning for Obama in Pennsylvania. One Pittsburgh union organizer told her he would not vote for Obama because he is black, and a white voter, she said, offered this frank reason for not backing Obama: "White people look out for white people, and black people look out for black people."

In a particularly nasty incident that occurred before the Iowa caucuses in January, vandals attacked the home of an Obama supporter in Marshalltown, Iowa on the night before Christmas Eve, spraying racist graffiti on an Obama campaign lawn sign and the front wall of the house.

The family’s Christmas presents were also stolen from their car and their garage.

More recently, Obama campaign offices in St. Paul, Minnesota -- site of the Republican National Convention -- and in Viroqua, Wisconsin were vandalized. In both instances, windows were smashed. Paint was splatterd inside and outside the St. Paul office, while racial slurs were spray-painted over signs promoting Obama's candidacy.

It was the second time in less than a month that the Obama campaign's Viroqua office was struck by vandals.


But by far the most disturbing incidents so far have been the arrests in Colorado and in Florida of heavily-armed people suspected of plotting to assassinate Obama.

On August 1, police arrested a man in Florida who allegedly threatened both Obama and President Bush. The man was interviewed and later arrested by agents of the Secret Service's Miami field office.

According to a Secret Service affidavit, the man -- who was white and who used a racially derogatory term against Obama -- said that if Senator Obama won November's election, "I'll assassinate him myself'."

And on August 24, police arrested four people in a Denver suburb on the eve of the Democratic National Convention, initially on suspicion of plotting to kill Obama.

Law-enforcement officials could find no concrete evidence that the suspects, a group of methamphetamine users, posed an actual threat to Obama despite possessing guns and bulletproof vests, according to a federal prosecutor.

Nonetheless, the suspects -- all of them white -- allegedly made threats against the Illinois senator laced with racist invectives, the prosecutor said.


In yet another incidence of racial insensitivity, activists at a conservative political forum last week snapped up boxes of waffle mix depicting Obama in a racially stereotypical role on its front and wearing an Arab-like headdress on its top flap.

While "Obama Waffles" takes aim at Obama's politics by poking fun at his public remarks and positions on issues, it also plays off the old image of the pancake-mix icon Aunt Jemima -- which itself has been widely criticized for decades as a demeaning stereotype of black women.

Obama is portrayed with popping eyes and big, thick lips as he stares at a plate of waffles and smiles broadly -- an image more reminiscent of Stephin Fetchit.

There was no immediate comment from the Obama campaign. But this blogger considers it yet another example of racial insensitivity at best and outright racial animus at worst.


The questions that cannot be answered until voters go the polls on November 4 are: How many people who hold a racial animus toward Obama will vote to deny him the presidency solely because he is black? And are there enough of them to actually do it?

To deny that possibility is to be in denial of recent history in which prominent African-American politicians seeking high office were leading in pre-election polls -- only to lose the election.

It happened in 1982, when Tom Bradley, the five-term mayor of Los Angeles, became the first African-American to win the Democratic nomination for governor of California.

The election to choose a successor to the retiring Governor Pat Brown, a Democrat, was extremely close. Bradley led in every statewide pre-election poll, including the highly respected Field Poll, which had never before called a gubernatorial election wrong.

Even exit polls conducted on Election Day and reported to major media outlets showed Bradley in the lead, prompting some news organizations to project him as the winner.

To the shock of almost everyone, Bradley lost the election to Republican George Deukmejian by about 100,000 votes, about 1.2 percent of the 7.5 million votes cast.

What happened? Some attributed Bradley's loss to the appearance of a gun-control initiative, Proposition 15, that drew out conservative voters.

But investigations by the polling firms revealed that about five percent of white voters did not tell the truth to exit-poll interviewers about who they voted for in the gubernatorial contest -- saying that they voted for Bradley, when they actually voted for Deukmejian.

This came to be known as "The Bradley Effect," in which a certain percentage of white voters purposefully lied to pollsters about their feelings about a black candidate -- out of fear of being branded racist -- then actually voting for the black candidate's opponent.

Several subsequent high-profile contests involving black candidates followed the same pattern.

In the New York City mayoral election of 1989, pre-election polls David Dinkins leading Rudy Giuliani by more than 10 points; he ended up winning by only two points, 50 percent to Giuliani's 48 percent -- with Giuliani capturing 60 percent of the white vote compared to Dinkins' overwhelming support (92 percent) from blacks. Without the support of the city's Latino voters -- who held the balance of power -- Dinkins would have lost (Giuliani ultimately ousted Dinkins four years later).

That same year, in the Virginia gubernatorial contest, the polls gave Douglas Wilder an 11-point lead over Marshall Coleman; Wilder barely eked out a victory over Coleman by less than half a percentage point. Were it not for Virginia's high concentration of black voters -- combined with liberal whites in the Washington, D.C. suburbs of Arlington County -- Wilder would have lost.


While the dishonesty of some white voters with pollsters cost one African-American candidate the California governorship in 1982, it was last-minute, overt race-baiting that cost two other black candidates their U.S. Senate bids in 1990 and in 2006.

Harvey Gantt, the first -- and, to date, the only -- African-American mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, ran for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Republican Jesse Helms in 1990 and 1996 and lost both times.

But it was the 1990 contest that will forever be remembered for Helms' last-minute campaign TV ad that showed a white man's hands ripping up a rejection notice from a company that gave the job to what the narrator said was a "less qualified minority."

A clear attack on affirmative action -- which Gantt supported -- critics claimed the ad was also a thinly-disguised racist attack on Gantt that utilized subliminal racist themes.

In any case, the ad worked; Helms defeated Gantt with 53 percent of the vote.

Fast-forward to 2006 and Tennessee. In October, as polls indicated that Democrat Harold Ford, Jr. maintained a slight lead in the U.S. Senate race in the Volunteer State, the state Republican Party ran a TV ad in which a white woman, played by Johanna Goldsmith, talks about meeting Ford, who was unmarried at the time, at "the Playboy party."

The ad was denounced by many people, including former GOP Senator and Defense Secretary William Cohen, who called it "a very serious appeal to a racist sentiment," namely, racist stereotypes about relationships between black men and white women -- a stereotype that gave birth to the Ku Klux Klan in Pulaski, Tennessee in 1865.

For Cohen, the ad offended him personally. The son of a Russian Jewish immigrant, Cohen is married to an African-American; he and his wife, author Janet Langhart, have released a new book, entitled Love in Black and White, a memoir about race, religion, and the love Langhart and Cohen share over similar life circumstances and backgrounds.

Ford's GOP opponent, Bob Corker, a former mayor of Memphis, asked the state Republican leadership to pull the ad, but it refused. Corker subsequently pulled ahead in the polls and won the election by less than three percentage points.


Given the history of the race issue being injected into past election campaigns involving African-American candidates, it is impossible to deny the reality that race is a major factor in why the presidential contest between Obama and McCain is so close, when most other contests point to a landslide Democratic victory.

How else can one explain polls showing a dramatic shift in support from Obama to McCain among white women since McCain selected Palin as his running mate? It's hardly a secret that Obama -- whose support among white voters skews heavily toward younger whites under 30 -- has a problem drawing support among older white voters -- especially those over 65.

With memories of the Bradley-Deukmejian gubernatorial election in California still vivid after 26 years, this blogger has reason to not entirely trust the opinion polls this time around. The specter of the "Bradley Effect" showing up in the contest for the White House is simply too great to deny or ignore.

The Obama campaign and many in the mainstream media have tried their damndest to downplay the race issue in this campaign. But it cannot be ignored any longer. It must be dealt with -- whether Obama likes it or not, whether the media like it or not.

# # #

Volume III, Number 55
Copyright 2008, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


Sphere: Related Content


James Mount said...

To say it is all race and has nothing to do with a quality Republican ticket is beyond belief. McCain and Palin have far more experience than this community organizer and quadrennial also ran.

Jackie said...

Hey James, what's wrong with being a community organizer? Jesus was a community organizer. Unlike Jesus, McCain and Palin are a couple of pathological liars. Now Palin won't meet with the Troopergate investigators. What is she hiding? This veteran is voting for Obama.

Anonymous said...

Bob Corker was actually mayor of Chattanooga, not Memphis.