By Richard Reeves
It was a dark and stormy night over most of the Eastern states, and all through many houses, not a creature was stirring. Water rushed around and nasty politics were forgotten for a bit. In New Jersey, the sting-tongued Republican governor, Chris Christie, said only good words about Democratic President Barack Obama and the federal response to the hurricane invasion of his state. It seems the president called him at midnight Monday and said: “Anything you need. Just call.”
Nice. Civilized. We’re all in this together, for the moment. At least in the East. Even Mitt Romney, the non-specific one, reacted by saying he would not cut the budget of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He means it—today. Presumably, he meant it, too, during the Republican primary debates when he targeted FEMA for the dustbin of history, saying the states and the private sector could handle emergencies like Hurricane Sandy.
Moving west, though, it was the same old, same old. By that I mean that Republicans are ending this campaign where they began four years ago, questioning the legitimacy of an elected black president with an odd (to us) name. In Colorado, a Republican congressman named Mike Coffman, best known for doing 500 push-ups a day, said the other day that the president is “just not an American.”
That has been a consistent Republican line since Obama took office. It pre-dated the rise of Mitt Romney as the party’s nominee, and it will continue no matter who wins on Nov. 6.
Actually, it is not only out West. John Sununu, the former governor of New Hampshire and President George H.W. Bush’s chief of staff, got his two cents in by saying that the only reason former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a Republican, was for Obama was because both men are African-Americans. Sununu, always a snake, repeats the thing every time he apologizes (sort of) for the slur.
Powell’s former chief of staff at State, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, a Republican, responded to Sununu’s inelegant remark by saying: “My party, unfortunately, is the bastion of those people—not all of them, but most of them—who are still basing their positions on race. Let me just be candid: My party is full of racists, and the real reason a considerable portion of my party wants President Obama out of the White House has nothing to do with the content of his character, nothing to do with his competence as commander-in-chief and president, and everything to do with the color of his skin, and that’s despicable. “
Republicans do have a response to straight talk like that. Basically they say that all blacks vote for Obama, so why shouldn’t whites retaliate in kind? The first part of that is true. More than 90 percent of African-American voters voted for Obama in 2008. The turnout may have been a bit higher because he was the first black man to be nominated for president by a major party, but recent history tells us those voters would have almost certainly voted for any Democratic candidate.
For those interested in the 2008 numbers, John McCain got more than 57 percent of the country’s more than 100 million white votes. Even if Obama got every single black vote that year, the total would be a little over 17 million. The real story was that Obama got 43 percent of the white vote. Folks began cooing that the United States had moved to a “post-racial” future.
Not quite. The Associated Press, working with Stanford and Michigan universities and the University of Chicago, released a poll last week that indicated that racial attitudes in the country have hardened since Obama was elected. The results showed that 51 percent of Americans hold “explicit” anti-black sentiments, compared with 48 percent in 2008. Another 5 percent were reported to hold “implicit” anti-black feelings. (For good measure, the AP reported that 57 percent of non-Hispanic whites expressed anti-Hispanic attitudes, compared with 52 percent four years ago.)
Truth be told, Republicans have been playing “race” cards since Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” in the 1960s through 1980, when Ronald Reagan announced his candidacy for president in Philadelphia, Miss., the worst of the worst during the black civil rights struggle. And, as Reagan might say, here they go again.
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White House/Pete Souza
President Barack Obama greets an attendee after signing his invitation during the September 11th Observance Ceremony at the Pentagon Memorial in Arlington, Va.