On the road to Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008

by Michael O. Allen on November 1, 2008

Editor’s note:

I am so nervous about the presidential election on Tuesday that I’m almost paralyzed. Certainly here I have been content to let others post instead of writing myself. I hope to summon some of my own words before Tuesday’s voting actually begins (I know boat loads of people have already voted).

My friend Jim Sleeper, who deserves a wider audience, has been one of the best and wisest writers on this election. I am going to post links here to a few of his last few pieces, which he has kindly grouped under: Thinking About Race and This Election

My Almost-Hidden Stake in an Obama Win By Jim Sleeper, Talking Points Memo Cafe, October 27, 2008, 2:21PM

Some people are still wondering whether Barack Obama will be flummoxed on Nov. 4 by the so-called “Bradley Effect.” Maybe, maybe not, but that we’re even debating it shows that much has changed for the better, as I note in a short commentary just posted at “Things No One Talks About,” in Dissent magazine.

What I don’t talk about even there is that some of us were heralding this change even before we’d heard of Obama, way back when some of his biggest current backers were claiming that prospects like his could never materialize, and even that they shouldn’t, because who needs a deracinated neo-liberal? The struggles behind his struggle can be quickly sketched, but they were hard-won, and worth knowing about.

So let’s glance back 15 or 20 years, to when contests involving even only white candidates were shadowed by Willie Horton, Sister Souljah, Tawana Brawley, and O.J. Simpson. Only a few black scholars, such as William Julius Wilson and Orlando Patterson, and white writers, such as yours truly, suggested that the significance of race was declining – and that it should.

Continue . . .

Things No One Talks About, by Jim Sleeper, Dissent,

October 27, 2008

AS PUNDITS dithered late last week over “the Bradley effect” and other racial clouds on Obama’s horizon, the candidate was making a difficult, possibly final, visit to the white mother of his white mother. Few commented on the implications of the fact that while racial identity runs deep in America, maternal bonding runs deeper. But maybe our Hollywood-besotted political culture requires the drama and sentiment in Obama’s farewell visit to “Toot” (the Hawaiian name for “grandma” is “Tutu“) to drive those implications home.

Sarah Palin claims that Obama doesn’t know or represent the real America. That both Obama’s color and his childhood exposure to Muslims are assets to America’s image abroad doesn’t matter much to Americans who are still offended or frightened by racial and religious difference. Image is one thing; intimate fears another. In a small former steel town in Pennsylvania this weekend a 71-year old woman, a Democrat who considers McCain a grouchy old man and Sarah Palin a joke, paused when a New York Times reporter asked her about Obama. “He scares me,” she said finally. “The coloreds are excited, but my friends and I plan to write in Hillary’s name.”

No one mentions that Obama’s biracial provenance and childhood brush with Islam launched him on struggles that have prepared him unusually well to address one of his country’s most daunting challenges: youthful alienation in inner cities where, at least until 9/11, the Nation of Islam held a certain appeal.

Continue . . .

How to Gauge Racism in This Election, By Jim Sleeper, Talking Points Memo Café, October 28, 2008

As the polls tighten, Slate’s veteran blowhard press critic Jack Shafer surely knows that sensationalist journalism and racism are two of the biggest reasons. But, as Todd Gitlin notes here, Shafer is training his piercing gaze on liberals in the media, who, he complains, are so enraptured by Obama that they can’t bear to acknowledge his faults and their inevitable disappointments if he wins.

Let me give this sage of journalism something he deserves — a viral e-mail. This one really stopped me. It will help Shafer and all of us, far more than his own commentary does, to tell whether liberal pundits’ jitters are worth frothing about right now. Ask yourself these simple questions:

What if it had been the Obamas, not the Palins, parading five children across the stage, including a three month old infant and an unwed, pregnant teenage daughter?

Would the polls be so tight if it had been Barack Obama who’d finished fifth from the bottom of his graduating class and if John McCain had been president of the Harvard Law Review?

Where would the polls be if McCain had married only once and had stayed married, while Obama had been the divorcee?

What if it was Obama who had been a member of the Keating Five (the U.S. Senators accused of corruption in a scandal that helped ignite the Savings and Loan meltdown of the late 1980s and early 1990s)?

How tight would the polls be if it had been Obama whose military service had included discipline problems and a record of crashing seven planes?

Continue . . .

Treat, or Trick? Elections Officials, Beware!, By Jim Sleeper, Talking Points Memo Café, October 31, 2008

In honor of Halloween, here’s one more frisson about election tricks that are perverse enough to block the treat of a victory.

One Saturday morning in 1982 I walked into the Brooklyn Board of Elections and found 30 supporters of then-State Senator Vander Beatty “checking” voter registration cards from the recent primary election.

The hobgoblins of Florida, 2000, never outdid what I saw that morning in Brooklyn. But, believe me, it can happen again.

Beatty’s minions – the young Rev. Al Sharpton among them — were actually fabricating “evidence” of voter fraud in Beatty’s recent defeat in his bid to succeed Shirley Chisholm, who was retiring from Congress.

They were forging thousands of signatures on voter-registration cards to create enough fraud to invalidate the 54-46% victory of his opponent, State Senator Major R. Owens, in the historic Bedford Stuyvesant district, one of the first created under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Beatty would submit the Saturday morning forgeries to a county court as evidence that Owens had rigged the election!

I hadn’t simply stumbled upon this scam. A political operative close to the Brooklyn Democratic machine had tipped me off. Had I not rushed down to the board that Saturday knowing what to look for, Beatty would likely have won his suit, and Owens, a redoubtable reformer, a graduate of the famed black Morehouse College, a librarian by training and a long-time progressive activist, would have been smeared.

So a lot was at stake in my Village Voice story that week on Beatty’s outrageous gambit: “Look at it this way,” said my tipster; “The man is either going to Congress or he’s going to jail.” (The pdf of these old stories is very slow, but worth the wait if you’re interested. Read the second story, “Vander Batty’s Desperate Gamble.”)

Continue . . .

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