Sit Back, Relax, Get Ready to Rumble
(...) But the real test is yet to come. The Republican Party has been successfully scaring voters since 1968, when Richard Nixon built a Silent Majority out of lower- and middle-class folks frightened or disturbed by hippies and student radicals and blacks rioting in the inner cities. The 2008 race may turn on which party will win the lower- and middle-class whites in industrial and border states—the Democrats' base from the New Deal to the 1960s, but "Reagan Democrats" in most presidential elections since then. It is a sure bet that the GOP will try to paint Obama as "the other"—as a haughty black intellectual who has Muslim roots (Obama is a Christian) and hangs around with America-haters.
Obama says he's ready for the onslaught. "Yes, we know what's coming," he told a cheering crowd as he won the North Carolina primary last week. "We've seen it already … the attempts to play on our fears and exploit our differences to turn us against each other for pure political gain—to slice and dice this country into Red States and Blue States; blue-collar and white-collar; white, black, brown." Hillary Clinton was not above playing on those fears. Refusing to concede defeat last week, she cited an Associated Press poll "that found how Senator Obama's support among working, hardworking Americans, white Americans, is weakening again." As Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson wrote: "Here's what she's really saying to party leaders: There's no way that white people are going to vote for the black guy. Come November, you'll be sorry."
A top Clinton adviser, speaking anonymously so he could be more frank, says the Clinton campaign has actually been holding back, for fear of alienating other Democrats. The Republicans "won't suffer from such scruples," this adviser says. Sen. John McCain himself has explicitly disavowed playing the race card or taking the low road generally. But he may not be able to resist casting doubt on Obama's patriotism. And the real question is whether he can—or really wants to—rein in the merchants of slime and sellers of hate who populate the Internet and fund the "independent expenditure" groups who exercise their freedom in ways that give a bad name to free speech.