Appealing to the crowd is not a good argument for one position or another, but it is interesting how many more voters (53%) believed Obama’s “dollar bill” remark to be actually racist than found the ridiculous “Celeb” ad to be so (22%). That would suggest that I vastly underestimated the potential backlash against Obama for toying around with these sorts of thinly-veiled accusations of race-baiting, and I am genuinely surprised by how strong the reaction is. I speculated that this sort of thing might not go over well with the general electorate, even as I was pretty sure that the media would eat it up, but I could not have imagined how badly it would be received by the public.
What I find even more remarkable is the idea that anyone could interpret Obama’s comment as being racist. It is now “racist” to hint that others are going to use a candidate’s race against him? Does that make any sense? Do 53% of likely voters really think Obama making an obvious reference to his race (one so obvious that you have to think your audience morons to deny it) is racist? If so, can we officially declare that the word has no more meaning, or at least that for the most part it is trotted out whenever we want to refer to something as Very Bad? Obama’s remark may be many things, but of all the words I can think of to describe it racist is not among them.
What doesn’t surprise me is that the response to the “Celeb” ad breaks down for the most part along racial lines, as a majority of black voters regard the ad to be racist, while less than a fifth of whites and just 14% of “other” take that view. The numbers are to some extent simply flipped concerning Obama’s remark, but even 44% of black respondents said that the comment was racist. What we seem to be seeing in the results to both questions is an intensely negative reaction to McCain’s ad among the groups that give him his greatest support, but an even broader, more negative reaction against the claim that McCain was engaged in race-baiting. Added to this is the confusion, encouraged by the bizarre phrasing of the question about Obama’s statement, between accusing someone of race-baiting and racism.
Obama’s strongest supporters are, as usual, rallying against any slight against their candidate in the most overwrought way possible, while Obama’s blunder of a remark seems to have given a green light for just about everyone who is not favorably disposed towards Obama to pin him with a very damaging label. Having been shielded by a friendly press and overprotective, hypersensitive supporters for most of the year, Obama seems to have become very careless. In making an incendiary charge (his opponents will engage in race-baiting) that was also false (to the extent that he blamed McCain by name for it), he may have done the kind of serious damage to his campaign that all of the other controversies, both real and manufactured, and all of the spurious but widely-circulated claims against him have failed to do.