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The politics of race



Sometimes the painful truth about the human condition comes in through the back door, or seeps into the national psyche like water into a basement. We can't see where it comes from, but the results are obvious. We'd rather not believe it, but the sump pump has to run all night just to keep the basement from flooding. There is an elephant in the room, and nobody wants to talk about it.

In this exciting and historic campaign, the first woman and the first black person with a real chance to become president have been locked into an interminable campaign as the nation slides deeper into recession, and the war in Iraq costs us $5,000 per second. Theories abound as to what this is doing to the Democratic Party, but one thing is chillingly unmistakable: Racism still runs like a demonic river through the veins of America.

In states like West Virginia and Kentucky, the landslide victories for Hillary Clinton prove only this: Poor and uneducated whites in this country would rather vote for a woman than for a black man. Racism trumps sexism. Exit poll interviews of Clinton supporters in those states played on "The Daily Show" (fake news that is more reliable than Fox News) said it all. One woman complained about Barack "Hussein" Obama: "I don't like that Hussein thing. I've had enough of Hussein." Another said, "'Cause he is of another race. I'm sort of scared of the other race 'cause we have so much conflict with them."

What we are about to witness will test the soul of the nation. As soon as Obama secures the nomination, the wheels of racism will begin turning faster and faster, with Karl Rove pulling the levers of fear like the professor who created the Wizard of Oz. Every visceral nerve will be prodded: the dangerous black man; the oversexed black man; the criminal black man; the uppity black man. The "money masters" will stop at nothing to keep their hold on power. It is going to get ugly, fast, and we had better not fail this test.

Clinton already failed it. She played the race card in her increasingly desperate campaign to secure the nomination that she believed was her birthright. Just think of the irony here: A woman whose political fortune was secured in large part by overwhelming black support for her husband played a pair of spades in her political poker hand: elitism and racism.

If your Democratic opponent will play the race card, and pander to anti-intellectualism, just think what the Republicans will do. Jeremiah Wright was just round one. Here comes round two. Obama and I belong to the same denomination, the United Church of Christ. We were the first church body in the history of Christendom to affirm the right of everyone to marry, including gays and lesbians. The attack ads are already in production: God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.

Someone is busy poring over Michelle Obama's doctoral dissertation, written in 1985 about institutional racism, and she will emerge as the Patty Hearst of reverse racism. Creative types are already at work pasting Barack Obama's face into frat party photos with buxom babes " planning to apologize after the fact, of course, after the damage is done.

Most of all, it will be a campaign dominated by the false dichotomy: "cut and run" vs. "my country right or wrong." But underneath it all will be our deepest shame, our saddest legacy, our original sin. Until a black man or woman moves into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington and looks at the copy of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation on the wall, we will not be a great nation.

Until that day, may Obama be kept safe from harm.

Meyers is minister of Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City and professor of rhetoric in the philosophy department at Oklahoma City University.

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