“Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes.

“Well, I say to them tonight, there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.”

That was state Sen. Barack Obama in his keynote address to the 2004 Democratic convention. His rejection of tribal politics, his stirring call to national unity, vaulted him into the Senate and was the first step on the path that took him to the White House.

Well, that was then, but now is now.

According to The Washington Post, Obama’s 2012 campaign is today busily subdividing the nation into racial, ethnic and religious enclaves for targeted appeals to find a “narrow path to victory.”

Setting one tribe against another, one faction against another, divide and conquer, is among the oldest tactics of politics and war.

The Obama campaign headquarters calls its divide-and-conquer strategy “Operation Vote.” Reporter Peter Wallsten describes it:

“Operation Vote will function as a large, centralized department in the Chicago campaign office for reaching ethnic, religious and other voter groups. It will coordinate recruitment of an ethnic volunteer base and push out targeted messages online and through the media to different groups, such as blacks, Hispanics, Jews, women, seniors, young people, gays and Asian Americans.”

This is tribal politics, pure and simple. Hire blacks, Hispanics, Jews and gays to appeal to and advance the interests of blacks, Hispanics, Jews and gays. And what happens then to the national interest?

Conspicuously absent from this racial-ethnic-religious targeting is America’s majority, white Christians, who are still 60 percent of the nation. Why no outreach to them? Have they been written off?

Obama got 43 percent of the white vote in 2008, a higher share than either John Kerry or Al Gore. But his approval rating among whites has fallen to less than a third; even lower among working-class whites.

If these folks have come to believe Obama has relegated them to the back of the bus, does not Operation Vote confirm it?

And if targeted appeals to race, ethnicity, religion, gender and sexual orientation is the Obama strategy, 2012 will be among the most divisive elections in U.S. history.

Consider. The Jewish vote in 2008 went for Obama 78 to 21 — a 57-point margin. But the Democrats’ recent defeat in the heavily Jewish congressional district of Queens, lately represented by Rep. Anthony Weiner, revealed a serious hemorrhaging of support for Obama and his party.

One reason: Ed Koch accused Obama of “throwing Israel under the bus.”

Obama’s full-throated tribute to Israel at the United Nations, which threw the cause of Palestinian statehood and 60 years of Palestinian suffering under the bus, appears a harbinger of what to expect.

With the Jewish vote, critical to victory in Florida, up for grabs, the Palestinians will have few friends in either party. And if they seek a nation-state by going to the U.N. General Assembly, can anyone blame them?

The black vote went 95 to 4 for Obama in 2008. McCain’s share was the same as former Klansman David Duke got running for governor of Louisiana in 1991.

Today, however, black disillusionment with Obama is broad and deep. Unemployment in that community is nearly 17 percent. The head of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II of Missouri, said that if Bill Clinton were president, he and his colleagues would be marching on the White House.

What kind of “targeted messages” can Operation Vote make to fire up the African-American base against the GOP?

Look for the race card to be played early and often.

Already actor Morgan Freeman has slandered the Tea Party Republicans as representing a “dark underside of America” that is “going to do whatever (they) can to get this black man outta there.”

“It is a racist thing,” said Freeman.

Would this be the same Tea Party that helped elect two black Republicans to Congress from the Deep South in 2010?

At a Black Caucus event, Rep. Andre Carson of Indiana said that the Tea Party Republicans would “love to see you and me … hanging on a tree.” California Rep. Maxine Waters said the Tea Party “can go straight to hell.”

If, 13 months from Election Day, the debate has deteriorated to this level of invective, 2012 should be quite a year.

What happened to the Obama who gave that moving address in Tucson on civility in politics after “Gabby” Giffords was shot?

Seven years ago, in his keynote cited above, Obama denounced “the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes.”

Does not that sound like the evolving Obama campaign, as described in The Washington Post?

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