Is the ‘Southern Strategy’ Alive and Well?
It is getting pretty ugly on the road with the McCain campaign — and that may be an indication the character attacks on Sen. Barack Obama are working.
After Gov. Sarah Palin spent a couple of days making an issue of Obama’s connection to former Weatherman William Ayers, Sen. John McCain yesterday asked a rally in New Mexico, “[Who is the real Barack Obama?](Politicians in the upper basin states of Wyoming, Utah New Mexico and Colorado have long believed their respective states were short-changed by the arrangement.)” One audience member ignored the rhetorical nature of the question and cried out, “A terrorist!”
Perhaps the most disturbing part of the exchange was that many in the crowd laughed. Not nervously, as if shocked that somebody would say something so outrageous, but as if they genuinely thought the remark was funny.
The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank reported that during a rally in Florida when Palin said that Ayers was an early supporter of Obama, somebody yelled, “Kill him!”
Milbank wrote today that Palin’s frequent attacks on the media also have provoked an ugly crowd reaction:
In Clearwater, arriving reporters were greeted with shouts and taunts by the crowd of about 3,000. Palin then went on to blame Katie Couric‘s questions for her “less-than-successful interview with kinda mainstream media.” At that, Palin supporters turned on reporters in the press area, waving thunder sticks and shouting abuse. Others hurled obscenities at a camera crew. One Palin supporter shouted a racial epithet at an African American sound man for a network, and told him, “Sit down, boy.”
All this happened yesterday. One day does not make a trend — but it does provide an indicator for what may be happening.
I remember when McCain made an appearance at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota in July — I was traveling with the campaign at the time — and a incident similar to the one in Florida took place but wasn’t reported.
McCain was giving his current spiel and he mentioned that Obama opposed offshore drilling. Then he said, “My opponent wants you to inflate your tires!”
A man in the crowd somewhere behind the press area yelled out “Kill him!”
The incident was a topic of conversation on the press bus heading back to the hotel in Rapid City. One reporter said he’d seen the man who had shouted out and said he had been drinking. The reaction of the crowd around the man was not favorable, and the man looked embarrassed afterward.
While it is impossible to definitively chalk the man’s comment up to racism, one way the public might have perceived it was foreseeable. The consensus among the reporters who attended the rally was that reporting the incident might inject the issue of racism into the debate when neither campaign had caused it. So there was an unspoken agreement not to report it.
Fast-forward two and a half months. The campaign is in the home stretch, and the issue of racism that was mostly a topic of academics and pundits may be surfacing on the campaign trail? Did the reporters in Sturgis succumb to “pack journalism” by refusing to write about its possible appearance?
But while the academics and pundits have been discussing the possible influence of the so-called “Bradley Effect” on voters this November, there have been isolated reports of campaign volunteers encountering bigots when going door to door or making phone calls.
If that foreshadows a more overt prejudice in the campaign, the question becomes: Will the McCain campaign publicly and actively reject the “Southern Strategy” of using white racism to win elections — which allowed the Republican Party to carry the South for decades — or will it tacitly embrace it?
McCain has a unique opportunity to demonstrate what kind of candidate he really is.