Quick debate post

I really don’t want to talk at length about the debate. In fact, I could only bring myself to watch about a third of it. But I did notice something I’ve been mulling over ever since.

How many times did McCain say, “I don’t think Senator Obama understands…”? Because I heard it several times in my incomplete viewing. And, particularly in light of what I think is astute analysis of the racist overtones of McCain’s refusal to look at Obama, it really bothers me.

The problem lies in the difference between “understand” and “know.” If Senator Obama didn’t know, for example, the difference between strategy and tactics, this is merely a gap in knowledge, which is easily corrected. But if he doesn’t understand the difference, it implies that he may or may not have been told what it is, but regardless his brain is incapable of processing that information.

I’m going to accept the most charitable interpretation of this that I can. I will assume that McCain was simply trying to change people’s perception of one of Obama’s main strengths—his intelligence. It’s insufficient to paint Obama as merely ill-informed, because he has now and would have as president dozens of staffers briefing him daily on everything he needs to know to run the country. Painting Obama as straight-up stupid, however, creates in the minds of voters both a problem with no real solution and a connection between Bush and Obama. This is a smart, if somewhat sleazy, campaign tactic. (Or it would be, if it hadn’t backfired so spectacularly.)

But of course one of the classic tropes of racist propaganda is that black people are simply incapable of understanding the complex issues most white people deal with easily—literacy, finances, naming their kids. So even if saying that Obama didn’t understand the problems being discussed wasn’t intended as a dog whistle, it surely must have caused a few ears to perk up. And being ignorant of, or turning a blind eye to, the racist implications of your tactics is a much worse sin, in my opinion, than making the mistake you just wrongly accused your opponent of making.

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P.S. All spelling and grammatical errors in this post brought to you by my vicious head cold.

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2 Responses

  1. If you want to follow dog whistle racism, visit http://www.stopdogwhistleracism.com for the good, bad and ugly from the right, center and left, about race in the race.

  2. Great subtle insight.

    McCain is starting to sound like Hillary Clinton did when she started to get desperate.

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