Sarah Palin Plays the Race, uh, Fear Card

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[Election 2008: Here We Go Again]

Things are getting ugly out there on the campaign trail, and in the middle of it is Sarah Palin, the Republican’s attack dog in lipstick and, now, by her own account, high heels.

With the McCain-Palin ticket fading in the polls—and with more Americans saying their values are closer to Barack Obama’s than they are to John McCain’s—there’s a sinking sense of desperation in the McCain camp. And as we know all too well, when the going gets tough in American politics, losers go negative.

This past weekend, and today at a rally in Clearwater, Florida, Palin has attacked Obama for his connection to former ‘60s radical Bill Ayers. He and Obama served together on the board of the Woods Fund, a charitable organization in Chicago.

“Our opponent ... is someone who sees America, it seems, as being so imperfect, imperfect enough, that he's palling around with terrorists who would target their own country,” Palin declared.

Palling around with terrorists? It’s an age-old charge with little or no substance. Obama, who was a child when Ayers was active in the so-called Weather Underground in the 1960s, has denounced Ayers' radical views and actions.

End of story. Or so one would have thought.

But, today in Florida, Palin added a little more spin to the charge. “I am just so fearful that this is not a man who sees America the way that you and I see America,” she chortled. Fearful. It’s the Republican’s 2008 version of the Willie Horton smear.

And it’s riddled with racist undertones.

Am I being paranoid here? Am I stretching it? I don’t think so. Even the mainstream, middle-of-the-road Associated Press made the connection. “Whether intended or not by the McCain campaign, portraying Obama as ‘not like us’ is another potential appeal to racism,” the AP noted. “It suggests that the Hawaiian-born Christian is, at heart, un-American.”

Is there any another subtext for creating the false image of a Black presidential nominee “palling around with terrorists” while assuring a predominantly white audience that he doesn’t see their America?

Not a chance. Sarah Palin’s crowds in Florida are even more homogenized than the crowd gathered at the Republican convention a month ago. The McCain-Palin campaign is preying among the fears among white, elderly voters in Florida and in several other crucial swing states in the hopes of scaring them in droves away from Obama.

And their calculated plan is that these racially coded smears will have traction with undecided voters, too. It’s 1988 all over again. McCain, Palin and the Republican campaign strategists should be absolutely ashamed of these tactics. They are the ones who are truly “un-American.”

That said, there’s been an interesting response to these charges. The McCain-Palin ticket keeps sinking in the polls. In many ways, these outrageous charges underscore how out of touch both McCain and Palin are with the financial crisis flaming around them.

Indeed, I am getting the sneaking suspicion that such tactics will ultimately fail Election Day. In northern swing states like Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Ohio,  Obama is opening up the race with growing leads. McCain has now pulled out of Michigan all together. And most tellingly, Obama has taken a small lead in Florida, once considered a sure state for the Republicans.

No wonder the Republicans are panicking.

 “There is a time when it's necessary to take the gloves off, and that time is right now,” Palin told supporters today in Southwest Florida.

That was Palin’s polite way of saying that it will be smear tactics all the way to Election Day. Be prepared. It is only going to get worse. The Republicans are likely to play fear and race cards until the end of the game. With the economy and America’s standing in the world both crumbling, those are the only cards they have left.


Black Star News columnist and award-winning filmmaker and journalist Geoffrey Dunn, Ph. D., is the former recipient of a both a John L. Senior Fellowship to the Cornell University Graduate School of Government and a National Newspaper Association Award for Investigative Journalism. His most recent film is Calypso Dreams.

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