I watched Meet the Press yesterday with John McCain and something snapped together for me finally after this (emphasis Tom Brokaw’s – who certainly had an arch tone this Sunday — and mine):

MR. BROKAW:  Well, let me ask you about that business about spreading the wealth around

SEN. McCAIN:  Sure.

MR. BROKAW:  …which has been a favorite phrase now of the McCain campaign. And also your vice presidential candidate has used the word “socialist” and “socialism.”

SEN. McCAIN:  Mm-hmm.

MR. BROKAW:  Do you honestly think that Barack Obama would have as his advisers–Warren Buffet; Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve under Ronald Reagan, who is widely credited with saving the economy at that time; Bob Rubin, former Treasury secretary; and even Chris Buckley, the son of the godfather of the modern conservative movement–both endorsing his economic policies and help shaping them if they thought he was a socialist of some kind?

My criteria for a racist attack during this long and arduous campaign season has been to pause when these three conditions are present and examine what message might actually be on the dogwhistling march:

1) Is it unique to Obama, i.e. is it a phrase we’ve never heard before applied to any other presidential candidate ever or is it something we haven’t heard in recent memory? For example: elitist or drug seller.

2) Is it illogical or impossible – does the assertion plainly contradict the facts? For example: elitist, drug seller or tax raiser.

3) Is it repeated, over and over, by a desperate person whose team is falling in the polls & who adopts a wide-eyed, credulous, nodding stare pronouncing the lie slowly and precisely with a watchful eye to see if the listeners are buying it. For example: elitist, drug seller, tax raiser or terrorist.

Optional: Does the assertion cause nervousness, embarrassment or confusion among non-blacks? When other white people such as Tom Brokaw sense something wrong and start to ask questions like “Do you really believe that?”, you know for sure you’re in the racist attack zone.

Yet for me, it’s always interesting to see what’s really behind the repeated dogwhistle lie and why people, particularly the media, are discussing it as if it might have some truth to it. It’s exactly the same as the assertion by Hillary Clinton and John McCain that Obama was an elitist even though both Clinton and McCain have more money than his family ever did and despite Obama’s humble beginnings as the son of a teenage mother. It was a code for “uppity nigger who thinks he’s better than you.”

It’s almost always some sort of code, you see, for a stereotype around which the public has deep, compelling fears about black people. Earlier in the day before Meet the Press, I saw this Google ad:

Headline – Obama Wins
New socialist president brings back form of slavery – everyone loses.

Thus Barack the Socialist = Barack the Black Panther (in Disguise).

Under the “Socialist” label, Barack Obama is actually the Ultimate Angry Black Man bent on retribution and re-distribution.

I mean, when is the last time anyone called a modern presidential candidate a socialist? Elements of socialism have been largely integrated into the fabric of all developed nations’ governments. George Will, conservative icon, had this to say on This Week with George Stephanopolous:

95% of what the government does is redistribute the wealth. It operates on the principal of concentrated benefits & dispersed costs. Case in point, we have sugar subsidies. costs the American people billions of dollars but they don’t notice it, it is in such small increments. but the sugar growers get very rich on this. Now we have socialism for the strong, that is the well represented & organized in Washington, like sugar growers, but it is socialism none the less, and it is not new.

The banks are being nationalized as might the auto industry in America. This is happening under a Republican adminstration, not a Democratic one. By socialism, of course, there is an anachronistic attack on Obama that he might be a communist like um, Martin Luther King (roll of eyes – King was not a communist). Communism as an economic system has been extinguished around the world – even Cuba is adopting free market principles once more. The last place on earth where communism reigns as both a political and economic system is North Korea where the people are perennially starving. No, communism is on a steep decline with Russia and China increasingly emulating the West. Meanwhile in the West, the argument about socialism was put to bed long ago. Now 1st world nations debate internally what exact mix of socialism, capitalism and democracy is right for their particular country or region – not whether those must all exist together for a functional modern society and economy. The Scandanavian countries have probably gone the furthest in their experiments while the U.S. has not usually been on the cutting edge of such concepts other countries enjoy in Europe as free college education, universal health care, housing for all and paid maternity and sick leave for all.

So even this fear is illogical at best. What are people really afraid of? What’s all this “socialism” nonsense all about and why is it so appealing, so seductive? I took a look in YouTube to see how people were presenting their arguments that Obama is a socialist. The notion has been out there for some time even during the primaries but only the hard right were promoting it.

Here’s Glenn Beck in April railing against Michelle Obama and asserting that the poor deserve to be poor if they are not willing to work hard enough. Americans have the right to be uninvolved. “You have a right to fail. You have a right to starve to death,” he says. His guest Mark Steyn calls Michelle Obama “Kim Jong Il dressed up with a bit of Oprah”.

On YouTube, I recommend that you plug in the keywords “Obama” and “socialist” together or follow this link. There were 2900 videos matching this search yesterday and over 3000 today. Many of the videos have hundreds of thousands of views or even millions. Much of the angst around Obama centers the Global Poverty Act which calls on the U.S. to join with other countries to cut poverty in the world by half by 2015. Obama is a co-sponsor of the bill but it’s supported by evangelicals and by Sen. Chuck Hagel and many other Republicans. It is the essence of bi-partisanship. Yes, the money proposed to do this is a lot but far, far short of what we’ve spent invading & destroying Iraq – making global poverty worse, not better.

In these wild-eyed videos, there are a lot of fear-driven images of black people with guns, anarchy, Clockwork Orange, attractive white women dressed in communist uniforms. There are videos which take quotes from Obama’s first book out of context to “prove” he hates white people and only wants to help black people – at the expense of white people. There’s a lot of interpreting and twisting Obama’s words to mean something they don’t on face value – videos seek to reveal what Obama “really means”. There are mentions of Chavez, Farrakhan, Nazis, and propaganda. The notion that Obama might be a “socialist” thus appears to me to be some kind of ridonkulous code for:

Barack Obama will unleash the dark hordes we’ve kept at bay who will finally take their revenge upon the white people of America. They will steal and rape our women. They will steal and spend all of our money. They will emerge from the ghettos to punish us! We will have to share(!) with those who are inferior, who don’t work as hard and aren’t as smart as us. The system where there are those who are better than and those who are worse off and who work for us will be overturned — in favor of them instead of us! As soon as he gets in the White House, out will come the black berets, those weird woven chairs they sit in, the guns, the giant afros, the free breakfast programs of the Black Panthers! They want Black Power! t’s all a trick – why can’t people see this!?

These fears are why “spread the wealth” sounds so chilling, apparently. This is all very foolish of course. America is not in store for a nationwide car-jacking, rape and murder spree upon Obama’s election. Why would a man who has invested so much in the established system for success in America – hard work and a good education – and who has indeed done very well following all the rules for the established system of government seek to overturn it? It is completely irrational in nature.

This is not what African-Americans want at all. We want the barriers to our success removed. We want what everyone else wants – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We want prosperity which is earned. We want to be able to get a full education, no matter the circumstances of our birth. We want equal opportunity and equal pay for equal work. We want a fair shake. We want clean, safe streets and schools. Clean air and water. Internet, sewage, bridges, electricity, phones, gas, etc. We want our voice to be heard by our elected leaders. Just like every other American.

This notion that we are different, that we want different things, that we are other than other Americans is preposterous. And racist. I’d like to see more African-American commentators on TV (curious that this hasn’t happened yet) debunking this notion that we just can’t wait to rob every 7-11, burn down every white neighborhood and rape every white woman in America after Barack Obama. We don’t want to move into your nice house and take your good job. You can keep those — those are yours. Enjoy them.

But forgive us if we want our own nice houses and our own good jobs. Earned and not taken though given the obstacles placed in our path in America’s discriminatory past, we wouldn’t mind a helping hand or a leg up to balance out the, ahem, centuries of knee-capping that held us back. We want doors that were closed – just to us – to be opened for the benefit of all — with your help. We, like you, are proud. Proud to be Americans and to begin to participate finally and fully in the American system of government as equal players. Is that socialism or communism? I don’t think so.

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