Sunday, November 02, 2008

Black and Blue.

I was beginning to think that the presidential candidates had forgotten about my little village on the cusp of Pittsburgh. There has been a conspicuous lack of evident canvassing until quite recently. That observation seemed to run counter to the prevailing media narrative. We have been told repeatedly over the last several weeks that the Keystone State is the pivotal battleground in the 2008 race. Certainly the McCain campaign has made it a big point to identify this state as a "must-win". Time and again we have seen visits from the Arizona senator and the Alaskan governor. In fact Ms. Palin has been nosing about a lot over the last week. She appeared in Penn State, Hershey, York, Erie and Latrobe. Reports tell us that she has managed to attract fairly sizable crowds, even if they have been decidedly lukewarm about her running mate.

But what I haven't noticed very much is political activity immediately outside Pittsburgh. It's true that this is a historically Democratic area. Enthusiasm for Obama is definitely pervasive within the city limits. Travel through just about any neighborhood in the 'Burgh, and you are likely to see tons of Obama/Biden signs on lawns and in front windows. Still, as soon as you cross the rivers, the presence of political advertising decreases dramatically. People have been strangely circumspect about their voting preferences. In my particular neighborhood, it's not been that obvious that we are heading into a very important and contentious election. I've spent a lot of time thinking about why that is, and I've drawn a few conclusions.

Both my intuition and personal experiences have led me to believe that racism has played a large role in dampening spirits in Allegheny County. People here are fond of characterizing this place as "old school". There's a strong union vibe that is balanced by a bedrock of social conservatism. And folks aren't at all shy about telling you that they hold resentments against African-Americans. In the comment thread of a previous post, I told a story about a conversation I had with the neighbors while they were handing out Trick-or-Treat candy. To make a long story short, they have decided to support McCain because they wanted their party to nominate a "white guy" instead of a "stranger" that they are unsure about. They even suspect Obama of being a Muslim.

It certainly doesn't sound good when I say it out loud, but the truth is that the voters around these parts aren't exactly politically sophisticated. Maybe you've wondered over the last few months just exactly who McCain and Palin thought they were fooling with their excessively negative smear campaign. I've got that answer for you- come and meet my neighbors. If you rattled off a checklist of platform items from each of the candidates without identifying who each item belonged to, they would have no problem siding with Obama. Still there's just something about that guy that tells their collective gut that something is "wrong". It's not hard to figure out that it has to do with melanin.

This indeed is what the McCain/Palin ticket has counted on, and why they believe they can be competitive in a state that has consistently voted "blue" whenever it came time to pick the national executive. Perhaps this is that "Bradley Effect" that so many conservative pundits have put their faith in. However, I have to wonder if it will be a winning strategy for the GOP. It seems to me from knowing so many racists that they are more bark than bite. They have no problem letting you in on their feelings about black people, yet few of them will ever act upon those feelings. There is almost always an accompanying awareness of being unfair. I think most of them wish they didn't have the prejudices they have. The big question is how that racism will affect their voting behavior. I suppose we'll find out for sure on Tuesday.

NOTE: I should add that the Rooney Family and the Steeler Nation have been very clear in their whole-hearted and unabashed support for Barack Obama... one more reason to celebrate the Black and Gold.

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