Recently, the media's been feasting on the recent release of the controversial Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. (Released in the UK as Race of a Lifetime: How Obama Won the White House.) Based on interviews with over 300 people involved in 2008's political campaigning, it's full of behind the scenes insights and dirt on both sides. Most of the dirt, however, was nothing we weren't either aware or otherwise convinced of by now. Two particular stories have stood out from the book's revelations.
The right latched onto comments made by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in private conversation during the campaign, and scandalized them. The objectionable comments in question were made to the effect of that Obama's "light-skinned" appearance and speaking patterns "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one," would help him find success as a candidate. Yes, there are so many ways Reid could have articulated these thoughts far more gracefully, but the right attempted to latch onto these statements as outright racist, taking the use of the term out of context. The statements Reid made were not racist so much as an observation of that sadly, racism is very much alive and well in America. Racist sentiments have boiled under the surface like a festering sore and since Obama's rise to political prominence on the national level, American racism has very much exploded back into the cultural mainstream. (Lots of people also lack the cognitive faculties to realize that saying you're not a racist does not strip any racism from your beliefs or any statement prefaced by, "I'm not racist, but...")
Were Obama completely of black genetic descent (Though he does identify as black despite his mixed ethnic background - which itself represents American diversity more than any white president ever has.) and were his skin tone darker, given the amount of racism we're seeing now, it's certainly possible that that could have had an impact on some of the people who did ultimately vote for him. I can't make any definite statements here, but I wouldn't count out the possibility of lighter and darker skin tones potentially making an additional impact - it's purely speculative to discuss it either way.
As for speaking in a more "urban" vernacular, as Reid was alluding to, we can all be honest - that would have sunk Obama early in the primaries. (And Republican National Chairman Michael Steele has embarrassed himself on numerous occasions now, having talked about wanting to put a "hip hop" spin on the party and worked in references to such slang as "bling-bling" that would make anyone of any age cringe. A great example of how utterly out of touch both he and the Republican party are with youth culture - there's a reason why Gen Y is predominantly Democratic and actually further-left progressive-leaning. We've seen what the Republicans have done to the country these past few decades, and they've screwed us directly in many ways.) Older voters certainly wouldn't vote for anyone who spoke that way. We may respond to "dumb redneck," but the American people wouldn't give any serious consideration to someone speaking as though they're from the streets of Harlem. (Regardless of whether they actually were.) It is funny how we'd take the former seriously, though, and how most of the country would write off the latter as not taking the office remotely seriously. (Look at Sarah Palin! And she didn't know anything.)
Ultimately, Harry Reid did nothing with his comments but show his age and that he's not completely politically correct at all times as Democrats are often stereotyped as a negative. There was no bigotry or malice in his comments, "negro" having been the standard appellation during the Civil Rights Movement in the '60s, when Reid himself was young. Reid called Obama and apologized as soon as these comments became public, only to come under predictable fire from the Republicans, desperate to destroy their opponents' image. Obama accepted Reid's apology and told him that the issue was closed as far as he was concerned. Likewise, Reid has received support from other Democratic leaders in the party, as well as key African American leaders in Congress and the Civil Rights community. Even Daily Show correspondent Wyatt Cenac did a remote in Nevada the other night to find that the black community there was fully backing Reid, having been a good, supportive leader concerned with their interests.
In addition to the double standard over conservatives who come off as inarticulate hillbillies vs. anyone who might affect a more ebonics-oriented manner of speech (Yes, I'm showing my whiteness with even this articulation.), conservatives showed again that they don't seem to quite understand the whole "racism" thing here. A problem that goes to the roots of many of their supporters, along with the constant accusation of "playing the race card." This is a party full of people claiming that we're living in a "post-racial" society where racism is now nonexistent. These claims amount to political posturing aligning themselves against ethnic minorities in the American population and denying the existence of a very serious problem that anyone with basic observational skills cannot miss in our culture. They're more than happy to welcome all kinds of racists into their "big tent," and their propaganda arm, Fox News, works very hard to avoid showing much of the discussion going on at the teabagger movement's demonstrations - the very racism internet bloggers have had no problem exposing by quietly infiltrating these meetings as supposed normal attendees. (The demographic makeup? Overweight, unhealthy middle and lower class white people who don't actually understand what they're protesting beyond that there's a black man in the white house and they're mad. These people will deny being racist if accused as well, and claim you're just trying to slander them, of course, like any other casual racist who doesn't think they believe anything wrong. A very saddening lack of self-awareness.) Likewise, they'd defend the famous racists in their party and stand by anyone who made a comment like Reid's if they were Republican - and if they were Republican, there's a good chance we'd be looking at a very different statement. (And one in no way defensible. I don't even want to know what people have undoubtedly said about Steele. His own incompetence makes it pretty clear that his being made RNC Chairman was a stunt not unlike Sarah Palin's VP nomination - an attempt to change the party's image while leaving their core substance as rotten as ever.) "Negro" is itself often taken as a slur today, but it has a somewhat more complex history than other, more open slurs that couldn't be mistakenly used as anything but. Harry Reid isn't a young man, and the divide over public reaction to his statements? It's a matter of context - of who is actually paying attention to the substance if what he said and the context of the words he used, as opposed to who is simply picking a loaded word not commonly or appropriately used today and using it to blindly cast aspersions of racism. But then, a large number of Republicans seem to look at racism as someone "playing the race card" - in their eyes, unjustly attacking someone who leans to the right. (And who's inevitably white.) They want to play up a narrative of the wealthy and white as "victims," while insisting that racial and ethnic victimization and negative slants against the African American community (Amongst others, Muslims and Mexicans being major targets too.) no longer exist. It's dishonest in an incredibly absurd way. Another out-and-out case of conservatives trying to dumb down a very complex issue - one that isn't being approached with anywhere near enough maturity in this country - to something black and white that portrays them as battered victims of some progressive minority conspiracy. Rhetoric like that only contributes to America's tendency to run in circles in terms of progress and lack thereof. This is only part of why the rest of the world doesn't share in our self-aggrandizing delusion that we're "the greatest nation on Earth."
Going back to Palin, here's where things get especially interesting. Longer term Spiral Reverie readers may recall that back in August of 2008, I observed that Sarah Palin was obviously picked as John McCain's running mate solely because the Republicans were banking on her as a gimmick candidate. She was an insult to the American people as a whole because they didn't consider her - let alone choose her - based on any of her qualifications. She was an especially sharp insult to women as an open anti-feminist figure who'd openly used her appearance to get ahead in life and stood for basically turning the women's rights movement back a good 50+ years in her own politics. I stated that she was chosen because after the anger over Hillary Clinton's dropping out of the race and conceding the final candidacy to Obama, Republicans assumed that America's women were so stupid that they would vote for McCain solely because Palin was a woman, regardless of how strongly she stood against progressive women's politics. It was a cynical, misogynistic decision banking on massive ignorance in the American populace - which the Republicans often rely on quite openly and gain from it far more often than they should. As I also called, the McCain campaign was dead wrong, Palin ultimately playing a major part in the sinking of the presidential bid.
Senior McCain Strategist Steve Schmidt recently appeared on a 60 Minutes special where Anderson Cooper interviewed him about the book and campaign, and bombshells were dropped. Joe Lieberman was - as everyone already knew - McCain's personal choice for his running mate. You can easily see what a match they would've made when you consider how many times Lieberman's turned on the best interests of the American people - even just in the past couple of months - but it would have been campaign suicide to pick a Democrat running mate thanks to today's extremely polarized political environment, the right largely squabbling like children and insisting they have to have things their way and no one else can have anything. (See: Their entire voting philosophy since Obama and the Democratic majority House and Senate took office.) Palin was clearly a desperate attempt to cash in on women, and Schmidt admitted that they were specifically looking for a woman - confirming everything I said back in 2008. What's worse? McCain Campaign Manager Rick Davis conducted his last minute search on - wait for it - YouTube and Google. This is how far they've fallen, and how little they considered the best interests of the American people. It wasn't about finding the best possible running mate, as Schmidt admitted, and it wasn't about qualifications or vetting - as they certainly didn't do that with Palin either, and it showed. It was all about finding a last minute trigger that'd get every woman in America to vote for them. They thought so little of the entire process that they'd just hit a search engine and everyone's favorite corporate-meathook-laden viral video site and find a magic bullet. What they got was someone astonishingly ignorant and proud of her ignorance. Someone who would be legitimately dangerous in a position of real power. Someone happy to lie at every turn, who couldn't even get her opponent's last name right during the Vice Presidential Debate that fall, accidentally referring to him as "O'Biden" once on air, notoriously only calling him that when out of the press's view.
This is what the Republican leadership thinks of America.