Code words can’t obscure GOP’s racial politics

Four years ago, the remembrance of Sept. 11 was turned into a political issue to help George W. Bush dig in his heels on national security matters.

In 2004, the birth of Swift Boat politics emerged from the clouds of the Republican National Convention in New York, just days before 9/11 and its constant replay of Bush standing with firefighters in the rubble of the World Trade Center telling terrorists the people who knocked down these buildings will hear from us soon.

Fear of another attack was rampantly exploited, whether through the rainbow threat levels or criticism of John Kerry’s actual war service.

Today, as we once again come to the anniversary of the tragedy, time has helped distance the use of 9/11 in the politics of fear. But a new fear is emerging from the right this time, far more cynical and subtle than anything we saw in 2004.

Nobody likes to talk about race as a factor in this election, and Republicans know any outward attempts to infuse the presidential election with the issue could easily backfire. And so the party now injects race without specifically mentioning Barack Obama’s color. The new racial politics are thrown to the voters in code.

Consider the latest attack on Obama’s experience hidden in the Democrat’s long-ago decision to end his budding career at a big law firm for a life as a community organizer. Rudy Giuliani was the most notable speaker at this month’s Republican National Convention to use this tactic. “Community organizer? I don’t even know what that is!” Giuliani said.

The teleprompter didn’t move for more than a minute as Giuliani continued vamping about community organizing, stressing the word “community.”

In this case, simply put, the community is an urban inner city. Giuliani wasn’t denouncing Chicago machine politics as much as he was reminding middle America about the blacks who live in cities.

Sarah Palin continued the assault in her speech. “I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer,” Palin said, “except that you have actual responsibilities.”

Hannah Brown and some Democratic operatives delivered a letter to the John McCain campaign on Tuesday asking for an apology for remarks made by Palin and Giuliani.

“The group signing this letter represents community organizers who have braved 110-degree heat and angry dogs to approach our neighbors’ doors and talk to them about their problems,” the letter said. “We have worked with law enforcement and elected officials to address the needs of homeless people. We have registered new voters, fought on behalf of mentally disabled homeless people, and advocated for increased student aid for college students and brought light to the factors causing deteriorating neighborhoods.”

Brown, the president emeritus of the Urban Chamber of Commerce, delivered the letter signed by such notables as Ruby Duncan, a powerful local civil rights advocate who once was arrested for marching on a state welfare office.

Brown and Duncan are too classy to call the McCain campaign tactic racist. They’ve been through too much and this is just silly distraction politics after all.

State Sen. Steven Horsford, who helped lead Obama’s caucus efforts in Nevada, said he thinks Palin’s criticism of community organizers “devalues the importance of community and the role that organizations in a community have in their government.”

Horsford didn’t say anything about race either, sticking with the campaign response: “Jesus was a community organizer.”

This is the kind of distraction that Republicans hope can become a wedge issue. Remember, it was just a joke when John McCain answered a legitimate question about his campaign in Nevada with a laugh and the answer, “And I stopped beating my wife just a couple of weeks ago.”

But somehow it’s deadly serious and sexist for Obama to use the “lipstick on a pig” description of McCain’s economic policies. For years Republicans have referred to Democratic proposals as “lipstick on a pig.”

And nobody’s complaining about the rest of the Obama quote: “You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change. It’s still gonna stink. We’ve had enough of the same old thing.”

The McCain campaign, with a straight face, suggests Obama was calling Palin a pig. But McCain’s no wife beater.

Georgia Republican Rep. Lynn Westmoreland has called Obama and his wife “uppity.” And some Southern Republicans call Obama “boy” while others repeat Obama’s full name (to include his middle name Hussein) as a way to erroneously imply that Obama is a Muslim.

In March, Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said if Obama were elected, “Then the radical Islamists, the al-Qaida, the radical Islamists and their supporters, will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on Sept. 11 because they will declare victory in this war on terror.”

Race is the new national security, even on Sept. 11.

Contact Erin Neff at or (702) 387-2906.

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