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The Race Card and the Truth

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Yesterday an Obama worker in Portland, OR was talking to a nice old lady who said she wouldn't vote for Obama because he was too young.
No younger than Kennedy, said the worker.
Oh, um, well, Obama didn't have enough experience.
He's held elected office longer than Clinton and passed more legislation, replied the worker.
Oh. Well. The old lady sighed and leaned in a bit. The fact was, she just could not see her way clear to vote for a Negro.
And there it was: a nice, prosperous, reasonable lady in a middle-class neighborhood who just could not see her way clear. She seemed embarrassed by this, as if she knew full well that her reservations were irrational; but that was how she felt; and in the privacy of the envelope (we vote by mail) that was how she would vote.
In later conversations with other canvassers, the Obama worker found that the old lady's attitude was distressingly common. For no explainable reason, a significant number of Oregonians just could not see their way clear. Well, if so many of our Nike-wearing, bike-riding, trash-recycling voters in this progressive state feel that way, how must folks feel in Indiana and West Virginia?
Progressives, we have a problem.
The sad fact is that race is not just a feeling to be aroused, a card to be played (though is Clinton is playing it as if she had a hand full of jokers); it's a stubborn microbe that infected voters long ago and will not go away. As Senator Obama has pointed out, we can't be expected to cure this illness in a few months. We must at least treat it however – control its symptoms enough to keep the patient functional – like an airline pilot medicating a head cold.
How? One way would be to take the route John Kennedy did in1960, when a significant number of potential voters just could not see their way clear to vote for a Catholic. He asserted forcefully that Rome had nothing whatever to say about the governance of America, period, so the Catholic card was a non-issue. Then he treated this non-issue as if it didn't exist. By definition, a non-issue is not an actual problem and therefore will evaporate by itself. It did and Kennedy won. Obama has already made a similar declaration of independence in his historic Philadelphia speech. So far, he's following Kennedy's strategy by ignoring the non-issue of race.
Unfortunately, the Clinton camp persists in treating race as if the issue were real (and we may be sure McCain will hop gleefully on that bandwagon). Alas, if you harp on a non-issue enough and get the media sheep to bleat about it long and loudly enough, people start believing it's for real. (Remember Weapons of Mass Destruction?)
The answer is to remind the electorate that Obama is not about any single group or issue, to say that he's about America and the needs of everyone.
And say it again and again and again. Two can play that game, and we can feel good about doing so, knowing that rather than spinning propaganda, we are repeating the truth. If we do it often enough, long enough, loudly enough, the essentially decent voters of America will come to see their way clear.
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A career writer and media maven, Jim Stinson is the author of four mystery novels and a college textbook, Video: Digital Communication and Production. His newest novel, Tassy Morgan's Bluff, will be out from Penguin Books in June 2011. He lives with (more...)
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