Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Feeling the Chill?

For the record: I am not planning to vote for either major party candidate. In fact, I have voted in every presidential election since 1980, and I have yet to vote for a major party candidate. There have been a few elections during which I was mighty tempted to do so, but some messenger from on high kept me on the straight-and-narrow, and I have always voted for third party or independent candidates. In fact, I vote third party whenever I have the option. This year, I am planning to vote for Libertarian Bob Barr.
Yes, I know he will not win. I vote my conscience. Call it a protest vote.

Now to the post . . .
Today, with my DSL working like a charm, I read several blog posts about the smearing of Joe the Plumber. A Chill Wind Blowing over at the Common Room discusses the chill effect that such smear campaigns have on free expression. When I finally had the opportunity to check my overflowing in-box for the home e-mail, I found a message that left me wondering about the chill effect of using the race card in this campaign. The message implied that the reason that John McCain is doing as well as he is this late in the campaign is that, despite his far superior education, Barack Obama is black. Although I think the sender is actually an educational snob (state universities are not good enough), the implication is that if Obama loses, it is because Americans are racist.

Now the smearing of Joe the Plumber has had real world implications for the guy, precisely because Joe the Plumber is not the red-necked schlub the smears make him out to be. If he were, the smears would not matter to anyone.
But since this is a man who wants to be successful, who wants to build a business and get ahead in life, the smears serve as a warning to other Joe's out there: Do not ask the difficult questions whose answers require Obama to tip his hand. If you do, the press will dig up every bad thing you've ever done. They will make sure that your job security is threatened and that the IRS is on your tail. So you'd better make sure you are squeaky clean before you ask an intelligent question. Don't best the press.

If the smearing of Joe the Plumber has implications for him, and for free speech, imagine the chill effect the implications of the e-mail I received today has. Essentially, we are being set up. If Obama loses the election, this reasoning goes, it is not because his policies are irresponsible (although raising taxes and deficit spending during a recession are irresponsible), it is because Americans are racist. The question then becomes, how many people will vote for Obama, not because they believe he is the best man for the job, but because they are afraid of being called racist? By playing the race card as Obama has--he even implied that Bill Clinton was a racist during the primaries--he has set us up. If he loses, it is because America is racist. Here are the Reverend Jeremiah Wright's black liberation theology chickens coming home to roost.

But consider the implications if Obama wins the election. If so, there will be an unspoken question about whether he won because he was indeed the best man for the job in the minds of a majority of the electorate, or whether he won in some crazy reductio ad absurdum of affirmative action.

Either way, this country will be divided and the election will be in question.
Playing the race card in a presidential election is dangerous for the citizens of this country.
These kinds of smears on the American electorate have demonstrated to me more than anything else that has been said and done, that Obama is not ready for the presidency.
He is not a uniter of citizens. He is an intentional divider.
He is not a leader of all the people. He is as partisan as they come.
This is not about the American people, no matter how much he insists that it is.
It is about him winning at all costs.

A further implication of this dangerous use of race to win the election is this.
If Obama's supporters feel that they must smear Joe the Plumber for asking a pointed question, and if they feel that they must smear the American electorate by playing the race card, what will they do when their candidate, as president, faces opposition to his policies?

Such political opposition has been the fate of every President of the United States.
And that is proper.
Will those who oppose the Obama administration's policies also be dragged through the mud personally or smeared as racist?

This playbook is not about uniting people around a cause.
It is about conformity.
It is the boomer's culture-war chickens coming home to roost.
In the culture wars, politcal opposition is not about reason or evidence, it is about a vision of differential rectitude in which the opposition is not only wrong, but evil:

" . . .those who disagree with the prevailing vision are seen as being not merely in error, but in sin. For those who hold this vision of the world, the anointed and the benighted do not argue on the same moral plane or play by the same cold rules of logic and evidence. The benighted are to made "aware," to have their "consciousness rasied," and the wistful hope is held out that they will "grow." Should the benighted prove recalcitrant, however, then their "mean-spiritedness" must be fought and the "real reasons" behind their arguments and actions exposed." Thomas Sowell, The Vision of the Annointed

I find myself simultaneously wishing that this election was over with and a the same time, worrying about what will happen to us when it is.

I am definitely feeling the chill.


mathmom said...

how many people will vote for Obama, not because they believe he is the best man for the job, but because they are afraid of being called racist?

Since people cast secret ballots in private, I don't think this will be an issue. People who don't want to vote for Obama but want people to think they did, can always vote their conscience and then lie.

This is a known phenomenon called the Bradley Effect

I think the Obama campaign has more to worry about with the Bradley Effect than the McCain campaign has to worry about people being pressured into voting for Obama just to not be called racist.

I think you're right that no matter who wins, there will likely be some question as to what role race played in the election. Especially if the final results differ significantly from the pre-election polls and/or the exit polling.

Anonymous said...

Another excellent post. I am definitely feeling the chill. I have nothing but fear and worry for this country now: One set of fears and worries if one candidate wins, and another set of fears and worries if the other wins.

We are not in for a good time, and there is no way out.

Because of what you posted, I wonder if we're all not a bit better off if Obama wins; however, I do not think that he will make the better President. So either way, I feel like I am voting to sacrifice the country.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Thanks, Mathmom!

I did not know what the Bradley effect was called. However, I have heard that there were places where Obama won in the primaries whereas the polling suggested that Hillary would win. I don't know what happened there or if that effect has a name. Maybe people change their minds in the voting booth.
I know I have a couple of times, even after talking to pollsters on the way in.

I do think that the use of the race card in the campaign can only have negative effects for all of us.

Stephanie--I think Obama is going to win, even though I do not think he would be a better president. But then, I have never voted for someone who won a presidential election.

regardless of who wins, I think we need to be prepared for a difficult four years. But if we are strong in who we are as Americans, we'll weather the blast!