John McCain and Company are shocked, SHOCKED that their now infamous Britney Spears/Paris Hilton attack ad against Barack Obama has become a topic of speculation for its "racial overtones."
Pop Quiz (Three Questions):
1). What American political party in the mid-1980s ran ads featuring a close up of a pair of alabaster white hands crumpling up a job application because affirmative action gave all the good jobs to undeserving blacks?
2). What American political party in the late-1980s ran an attack ad that featured a scary black convict who was released on a prison work furlough program and raped a woman?
3). What American political party in the last election cycle ran an ad featuring a seductive scantily-clad young white woman beckoning the African-American candidate to "call" her for a sexual rendezvous?
And John McCain says Barack Obama is "playing the race the card?"
As the nation grapples with its first African-American nominee from a major political party to come so close to winning the presidential prize it is perhaps useful to look at a bit of American history from the early 20th century. In 1910, the "Fight of the Century" took place between the defending heavyweight-boxing champion, John "Jack" Johnson, who was African American, and James Jeffries, who was white. Newspaper reporters and sports writers at the time referred to Jeffries as "the Great White Hope." One sports writer from the "Chicago Tribune" opined that Johnson's "innate conceit and vanity will cause him to strive for the theatrical, to pose for the crowd and the pictures, whereas Jeffries will go about his work in a businesslike manner."
When I read that 98-year-old newspaper clip I couldn't help but think of some of the words the McCain campaign (with a hefty assist from the corporate media) has tried to associate in the public's mind with Barack Obama: "presumptuous," "overconfident," "cocky," "out of touch," "elitist." Obama is in good company. These are the same kind of charges that white supremacists leveled at Jack Johnson, Paul Robeson, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
McCain's TV commercial smearing Obama for his "celebrity" with images of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton dissolving into images of Obama is the first montage the Republicans have deployed featuring Obama and young white women.
It will not be the last.
There is a pattern here: John McCain willfully misconstrues things Obama says and then pretends to be "astonished" that Obama would say such things. McCain stands by his campaign's attack ad that falsely accused Obama of snubbing troops in Lundstahl, Germany. He also stands by his campaign's sleazy Britney/Paris ad claiming that some useful or worthy public information service was provided.
This election should be a referendum on eight miserable years of misrule by the Republicans. But the descendents of white people who used to picnic at lynchings are coming out of the woodwork -- with the active encouragement of the McCain campaign. This silent army that is connected not only to the Republican Party's Southern wing but to white supremacist groups like the Council of Conservative Citizens (C of CC) needs no marching orders from Fox News, the McCain campaign, or the Republican National Committee. They know that if they cannot muster the resolve to stop a black man from becoming the President of the United States then what is the value of white privilege? McCain is carrying the torch to keep "hope" alive that wealthy white men will continue to be the center of the world.
John McCain is the "Great White Hope."
Joseph A. Palermo is an Associate Professor of American History at CSU, Sacramento and the author of two books on Robert F. Kennedy, firstname.lastname@example.org