On last Friday’s Real Time with Bill Maher, Andrew Sullivan offered perhaps the most perceptive thought I’ve yet heard about the racial fears shared by the 55-and-over crowd about Barack Obama. I can’t find a transcript, but he basically said that it’s not Obama’s latte-ness per se that turns them off, as much as the fact that he represents a shifting racial-cultural paradigm in this country.
Where almost all under-40 GenXers are completely accustomed to and cool with the day-to-day realities of a multi-cultural society and work force, Obama’s ascendancy is being interpreted by the 55-and-overs as a symbolic confirmation that the largely white-bread country they grew up in as kids and teenagers — the Brady Bunch ’50s and ’60s culture in which WASPs pretty much ruled socially, economically and in the media, and in which racial minorities primarily lived and worked on the sidelines — is gone, and this is making them feel insecure and threatened.
To this out-of-it group (i.e., the aging Mickey Mouse Club crowd), the prospect of Obama in the White House is an unmistakable sign that their “world”, in short, is coming to an end, and they’re afraid of being left out in the economic cold as a result.
The reptiles running the McCain campaign, being no fools, are naturally doing what they can to exploit this. As this Brent Staples N.Y. Times “editorial observer” piece, dated 9.21 and titled “John McCain, Barack Obama and the Politics of Race,” points out.
“In the Old South, black men and women who were competent, confident speakers on matters of importance were termed ‘disrespectful,’ the implication being that all good Negroes bowed, scraped, grinned and deferred to their white betters.
“In what is probably a harbinger of things to come, John McCain‘s campaign has already run a commercial that carries a similar intimation, accusing Barack Obama of being ‘disrespectful’ to Sarah Palin. The argument is muted, but its racial antecedents are very clear.
“The throwback references that have surfaced in the campaign suggest that Republicans are fighting on racial grounds, even when express references to race are not evident. In a replay of elections past, the G.O.P. will try to leverage racial ghosts and fears without getting its hands visibly dirty. The Democrats try to parry in customary ways.
“Mr. Obama seems to understand that he is always an utterance away from a statement — or a phrase — that could transform him in a campaign ad from the affable, rational and racially ambiguous candidate into the archetypical angry black man who scares off the white vote. His caution is evident from the way he sifts and searches the language as he speaks, stepping around words that might push him into the danger zone.
“These maneuvers are often painful to watch. The troubling part is that they are necessary.”