While John McCain has been making coded racial appeals by using well-worn tropes like "welfare" and superimposing Barack Obama's face over maps of the Middle East, in the South Republicans are being considerably more forthright about their feelings, especially with regard to black turnout. In Florida, local GOP county chairman David Storck blasted out an email warning Republicans that black folks were (gasp) voting!
It begins with the words "The Threat," and, referring to an early voting site in Temple Terrace, reads in part: "I see carloads of black Obama supporters coming from the inner city to cast their votes for Obama. This is their chance to get a black president and they seem to care little that he is at minimum, socialist, and probably Marxist in his core beliefs. After all, he is black -- no experience or accomplishments -- but he is black."
The McCain campaign reportedly denounced Storck, but this isn't an isolated incident. In Georgia, Sen. Saxby Chambliss himself is outwardly warning supporters about those "other folks":
The Republican is outwardly confident, but there’s urgency in his voice as he tours North Georgia, trying to boost turnout in his predominately white base: “The other folks are voting,” he bluntly tells supporters.
The idea that whites are supposed to be terrified by black voters exercising their right to vote appears to be a theme on the campaign trail for Chambliss:
“There has always been a rush to the polls by African-Americans early,” he said at the square in Covington, a quick stop on a bus tour as the campaign entered its final week. He predicted the crowds of early voters would motivate Republicans to turn out. “It has also got our side energized, they see what is happening,” he said.
Ed Kilgore says that the sight of black voters turning out in droves in the South has driven local news since the start of early voting, a development that he suggests could spark a backlash among whites and motivate them to the polls. This is, after all, what Chambliss is counting on. As I've written before, Obama's run upends an informal racial hierarchy that some people instinctively want to preserve. I'm not even sure that they're entirely conscious of it, but I believe it accounts for some of the insanity on the right, particularly with regard to criticisms of Obama being "Marxist" and "socialist." McCain himself has had trouble expressing what exactly is radical about the kind of "redistribution" Obama is proposing by raising the tax rate 3 percent, and the reason is that the redistribution is not one of income or hard resources but one of power and hierarchy. And it scares some people to death.
There's been a great deal of talk about how Barack Obama winning the presidency would be a bookend to America's problematic racial history. But the fact is that prominent Republicans are comfortable, even bold, about attempting to turn out their base by invoking fears of black political power. Neither that nor the underlying attitudes that make said appeals possible will change if Obama wins. Yesterday The Economist hoped that an Obama victory would "lessen the tendency of American blacks to blame all their problems on racism." Contrary to conventional wisdom, black people do not speak through one voice named Al Sharpton. Still, I find this notion that black people hold themselves back by blaming everything on racism laughable given the fact that the politics of the past fifty years have been premised on white grievance and white identity -- perhaps never more so than in the past few years, when everything from problems in Iraq to Sarah Palin's inability to string together a coherent sentence on policy matters without flash cards is blamed on liberal intolerance.
It may turn out be the case that a politics of grievance is inherently self-defeating, but it certainly hasn't been the case for the Republican Party in a very long time. If, in fact, black folks hold themselves back by blaming their problems on racism -- and I'm skeptical that an acknowledgment that racism remains powerful in society is the same thing as acquiescing to it -- the distinction is that America is a place where white grievance is a path to political power and black grievance is a path to isolation. That's a double standard that argues both for not dwelling on racism to the point of self-destruction, and also for acknowledging that an Obama presidency will change nothing more than what has already changed.