Expert: McCain campaign hoping to appeal to 'latent racism'
David Edwards and Muriel Kane
Published: Tuesday October 21, 2008

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MSNBC's Rachel Maddow found it hilarious on Monday that the McCain-Palin campaign is now accusing Barack Obama of being a socialist, but she also suggested that there may be "a method to this madness," in the form of an attempt to whip up racism and resentment of the poor.

Sarah Palin recently stated, "Taking more from ... a small business owner, or from a hard-working family and then redistributing that money according to a politician's priorities, there are hints of socialism in there."

John McCain similarly charged in a radio address last Sunday that "Barack Obama's tax plan would convert the IRS into a giant welfare agency, redistributing massive amounts of wealth."

"'Welfare'? Where'd that come from?" asked Maddow, calling it "the great racially-divisve codeword from the 80's and 90's -- that has no bearing whatsoever on Barack Obama's tax policies."

Maddow suggested, however, that the use of words like "socialism" and "welfare" may indicate the McCain campaign is attempting to evoke the "Bradley effect" -- the possibly mythical idea that black candidates poll higher than their actual support because racist Democrats are ashamed to admit they're not willing to vote for their own party's candidate.

Maddow then turned to Melissa Harris-Lacewell. a Princeton professor of politics and African-American Studies with whom she has previously discussed the Bradley effect, and asked if that might be the intention.

"I don't think that that's what's going on," Harris-Lacewell replied cautiously. However, she stated emphatically, "I do think that John McCain and Sarah Palin are clearly, as a context of their campaign, trying to use race as a wedge issue."

"That's what 'welfare' is as a code word," she continued. "It's not quite the same thing as trying to induce a Bradley effect, but it is hoping that there is enough latent racism left in the system that they can use that to defeat Barack Obama."

Black officials have recently been expressing dismay at what they see as appeals to racism by the McCain-Palin campaign. Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer recently defended McCain from these charges, saying that "he has been scrupulous in eschewing the race card" and calling it "Orwellian for him to be now so widely vilified as a stoker of racism." In the same column, Krauthammer mocked Rachel Maddow's suggestion that Republican attacks on ACORN represent an "unstated appeal to racial prejudice."

Lacewell-Harris, hwoever, did not see an appeal to racism as likely to succeed, because Obama currently enjoys broad-based support and great popularity among voters in all categories. "I think it's maybe a little bit unfair to think of white Americans as all being represented by the folks that are showing up at the Palin rallies," she stated.

Lacewell-Harris also found the attacks on redistribution odd, considering that the Republicans have been redistributing wealth upward from the middle class to the wealthiest Americans for the last eight years. "It's just a very strange thing," she stated, "to watch a very wealthy candidate sort of laugh about the idea of sharing, you know, a few of his seven houses with the rest of the country."

This video is from MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, broadcast October 20, 2008.

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