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How they see us: Racism and the presidential campaign
Will American racism cost Barack Obama the election? asked Alexander Downer, former foreign minister of Australia, in Australia&rsquo;s <em>Advertiser.</em>
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ill American racism cost Barack Obama the election? asked Alexander Downer, former foreign minister of Australia, in Australia’s Advertiser. Polls consistently put the Democrat several points ahead of his Republican rival, John McCain—but the very slimness of his lead is shocking. Both parties share the blame for the global financial crisis, but given that it “happened on the Republicans’ watch,” the Democratic candidate “should win in a landslide.” The fact that McCain still has a chance can be explained by only one factor: race. The truth is, race remains a hugely divisive factor in American politics. We outsiders may not realize it—since we’re used to seeing Colin Powell or Condoleezza Rice as the face of America—but polls show that many white Americans view blacks with suspicion, even distrust. “Sen. Obama is doing less well than you would expect not because of his policies, or because of the failure of his character, but because of the color of his skin. That’s very sad.”

But it’s not surprising, said Achille Mbembe in South Africa’s Cape Times. The Republican Party has been practicing “win-at-any-cost” politics for decades. Fighting a close battle with a black candidate, it naturally chose to “descend into the dark territories of race-baiting and xenophobia.” But the tactic may be spinning out of control. McCain’s running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin, has been encouraging crowds to see Obama as somehow un-American, possibly even as a terrorist. “Rousing the uglier impulses of America is a symptom of an ideology in an advanced state of decay.”

I have met four Republicans in my life, said Jacob Dlamini in South Africa’s Business Day, and all have been “the very definition of narrow-mindedness and mean-spiritedness.” One of them openly admitted he was a racist, another had a “visceral hatred of gay people,” and the other two believed that the solution to the Middle East’s problems was to “nuke the Arabs.” I know that four people, out of millions, don’t add up to a significant sample. Perhaps there are “many decent Republicans” out there. But I wonder “how many of them feel at home” in the party today.

Let’s hope it’s not many, said Kap Kirwok in Kenya’s East African Standard. True, some of the anti-Obama bumper stickers are downright “scary.” A typical one reads, “Warning: I am a bitter Christian and I am clinging to my gun.” That’s ostensibly a reference to a comment Obama made about people in small towns, but it carries threatening overtones. Still, we should not be disheartened. Obama has a huge and devoted network of supporters, most of them white, and they are working tirelessly to get him elected. He is like “a duck on a lake: On the face of it, it looks all calm and serene, effortlessly gliding along, but below the water surface, its legs are paddling madly.” All we can say is, “Go, Obama, go!”

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