IF THE REPUBLICAN PLAY BOOK against Senator Barack Obama isn’t already obvious, consider the fact that just today the McCain campaign suspended a political staffer who disseminated a racist and misleading video smear against Obama, a video that, incidentally, was created by a conservative talk radio producer.

(And yes, there is a difference between the Republican play book and the McCain play book; it’s a bad cop/good cop relationship).

barack-obama-bw.pngFolks, in this election, there are people who will speak to you as if you’re an American adult, and there are those who will rely on the nasty trope of racism and the complacency and willful ignorance of many voters. I agree with Senator Obama when he says that racism is a topic Americans can no longer avoid. I agree there has been a racial stalemate for many years now and that if we are to subscribe to the notion of fundamental change, then we must address the issue of race (and gender) head-on.

Over a year ago, when I first wrote about the e-mail smear campaign against Obama, I considered such tactics to be like a one trick pony, and I assumed, rightly or wrongly, that once the facts were laid out, Americans would turn against this type of divisive politics– the type of politics that lies about a man’s religion, his patriotism, and nationality, a politics that relies on our worst fears and the unrelenting force of collective bigotry to ensure that real policy is never debated.

But a year later, we’re still dealing with many of the same issues, though now they are finally being amplified, analyzed, and dissected.

As Thomas Frank pointed out in his groundbreaking book What’s the Matter With Kansas?, the “genius,” if you wish to call it such, of the Republican Party has been to convince working-class Americans to vote against their own economic interests in the name of a handful of amorphous moral issues– issues, by the way, that are typically beyond the purview of our elected officials.1_61_obama_wright.jpg

Recently, a conservative acquaintance told me that although he wishes for universal health care, he could never vote for Senator Obama or Senator Clinton because of “moral reasons.” For some reason, conservatives still believe that the Republican Party– despite their recent laundry list of scandals and corruption– represents the party of morals. And believe me, I am not writing to convince them otherwise, because, at this point, I’m not sure what else it would take.

I’m writing to urge people, particularly people in Central Louisiana, to actually listen to what is being said and to who is saying it. The recent remarks by Jeremiah Wright have rightly stirred up controversy; they have forced people to ask questions about Obama’s beliefs.

And he continues to answer those questions. Listen to what he is saying. It’s remarkable, particularly for a politician.

Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all….

But– get this– you can actually completely disagree with someone without smearing, hating, and “disowning” them. Obama’s asking us to do something crazy: Understand where this is coming from.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.


For the second time in as many days, I received a chain e-mail smearing Senator Obama. Believe it or not, the e-mail is being circulated by a prominent local businessman. Rather than check the facts, the e-mails are forwarded without question.

The first e-mail attempted to suggest that Senator Obama’s campaign is secretly being funded by terrorists.

The second e-mail concerns Obama’s church and a phantom group of Obama supporters allegedly called “Muslims for Obama 08,” whose website appears to have been taken offline and who does not appear to have any official connection with the campaign.

Race, religion, and terrorism: Be afraid. Be very afraid.

One of my relatives recently repeated the claims that Obama “didn’t put his hand on the Bible when he was being sworn in” (not true; that was Keith Ellison) and that “Obama doesn’t put his hand on his heart during the pledge” (not true; he observed proper protocol by putting his hand on his heart during the pledge; the controversial picture of Obama was taken during the “Star Spangled Banner,” a fact easily corroborated by the video evidence). These rumors have been circulating for more than a year, and for some reason, people will not accept that THEY ARE LIES. They keep repeating them in the hope that if you say it long enough, it becomes true.

By the way, my favorite: They attack Obama for not wearing a flag lapel pin, yet McCain usually doesn’t wear one either. Watch this hypocrisy:

But despite all of these unsettling smears– as well as the rapidity of them, it may be productive for us to tackle these issues now– in March– and not later in October.

That said: Of course Wright’s comments were offensive and wrong. But Barack Obama is not Jeremiah Wright, no matter what the Republican Party, talk radio, and the conservative blogosphere suggests.

Moreover, the remarks of conservative apologists such as Pat Robertson, the late Jerry Falwell, and John Hagee have, at times, been equally if not more offensive, and all three men have been openly embraced by the Republican Party. John McCain even flew down to San Antonio to receive an endorsement from Hagee, who offers his own angle on why America is “damned” and who refers to Catholics as “the great whore.” Remember that Hagee was the one who said Katrina was “God’s punishment” on the people of New Orleans.

Hagee also said, “There are 1.3 billion people who follow the Islamic faith, so if you’re saying there’s only 15 percent that want to come to America or invade Israel to crush it, you’re only talking about 200 million people. That’s far more than Hitler and Japan and Italy and all of the axis powers in World War II had under arms.” Guess what he is implying?

Pat Robertson has been at the center of so many scandals that there is a Wikipedia page dealing exclusively with Pat Robertson controversies. Anyone remember this gem?

In interviews with the author of a book critical of the United States Department of State, Robertson made suggestions that the explosion of a nuclear weapon at State Department Headquarters would be good for the country, and repeated those comments on the air. “What we need is for somebody to place a small nuke at Foggy Bottom,”[16] Robertson said during his television program, referring to the location of the State Department headquarters.

And I don’t think I have to remind anyone of what the late Jerry Falwell said about the true cause of 9/11. But just in case you forgot, he said, “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.'”

John McCain got all dressed up in order to court Jerry Falwell’s support.

I bring all of this up for a reason: There are contradictions and angry, embittered ideologues on both sides of the aisle. It’s important for us not to lose sight of the real issues; politics should not be discussed with the same reckless abandon with which Americans treat celebrity culture. On both sides, we are discussing issues far greater than one man or one woman.

After eight years of President Bush, it is time that we engage in a serious conversation about the future of our democracy. There will always be people who seek to distract and smear– it’s worked in the past, they figure, so why not now? And it could work now, I suppose, unless we collectively realize that the stakes are a little higher this time. It could work unless we collectively reject those “agents of intolerance” on both sides of the aisle. We don’t have to disown them. Much like Obama implored, we can reject without disowning. We can repudiate without vilifying, hyperbolizing, and hating. We can attempt to understand where it’s coming from.

John Hagee preaches to a 19,000 member church. Pat Robertson has an audience of millions. And before Falwell died, he had amassed his own empire. including Liberty University (of which my cousin is a graduate). All three of these men, in their own way, have expressed the same type of vitriol against the unity of our country as Jeremiah Wright expressed. And like Wright, all three of these men preach to a very specific community.

Some may say, rightfully, that the difference here is that McCain doesn’t attend Falwell’s church, whereas Obama is a member of Wright’s church. And while this may be a valid (and argumentative) point, it’s not relevant.


Because, frankly, the Constitution provides that the President shall not be subjected to any type of religious test. In this country, though we may at times forget it, we are all beneficiaries of the separation of church and state.

And more importantly, because the issue of race (and its interaction with other discourses) is complicated and nuanced, it cannot ever be reduced to a single statement or expression, however inflammatory or provocative. Obama’s church, much like the church in which I grew up, is filled with personalities and contradictions; it is not immune to scandal or derision. The church is a living body.

But most importantly, it doesn’t matter because Barack Obama– obviously and manifestly— does not agree with Wright’s remarks on this issue.

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