There’s something the Obama campaign knows, and the McCain people know it too. It’s that little secret many Americans don’t know about themselves: Way down deep in parts of their souls they never visit, they’re prejudiced.
They don’t know it because the prejudice, until now, has remained dormant, waiting to be triggered. Racism comes in many forms. It isn’t just the overt kind-- the bigoted redneck shouting slurs.
Once activated, it’s cunning, pernicious. It steals into our thinking, cloaked in euphemism and rationalization.
As long as Barack Obama stays cool, speaks like a Harvard graduate and wears nice, tailored clothing, he doesn’t present a threat to the average white American. If John McCain gets angry, he’s just a patriotic war hero expressing righteous indignation for the lamentable state into which his country has fallen.
If Barack Obama gets angry, suddenly he’s a Black Panther about to hurl a Molotov cocktail into our gated community. He’s Rev. Wright, Jesse Jackson, Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan, and Al Sharpton rolled into one. “Martha! I knew it all along! He’s that guy hanging out at the intersection that we roll up the windows and lock the doors against! And HE wants US to give him the keys to the CAR???”’
It’s Obama’s job not to be goaded into rising to the bait that the McCain camp is so generously scattering on the waters, and lose his temper. He’s hobbled in that he can’t really sling it back the same way it’s being shoveled at him. He’s a new kind of politician, remember?
At the same time, nobody wants a man for President who appears weak. If he can’t stand up to John McCain, how will he keep Vlad Putin from using him as a chew toy? Americans like to see a little fire in their Presidential candidates. Well, in some of them.
It’s an almost impossible act to finesse. The race issue, much as we’d like to deny it, is just sitting there, throbbing softly... the cobra in the corner. Whatever the outcome in November, it’s going to take some time and honest self-examination as a people before we realize how truly groundbreaking the Obama candidacy has been in our society.