After the last presidential debate both Karl Rove and Slate's "Poll Tracker" electoral maps projected that Sen. Obama would win the presidency with 313 electoral votes if the election was held that day. This would be a massive Electoral College victory for Sen. Obama. On that same day, the Associated Press reported that perhaps as many as 100,000 people attended a rally for Sen. Obama in St. Louis, Mo., making it the largest rally so far. Also, Charles Blow, an op-ed columnist for TheNew York Times, said that the election was over, and if he was wrong, he would drink Liquid Plumber in penance.
The next day, in a devastating critique of the McCain-Palin campaign, General Colin Powell endorsed Obama for president. This was the same day that the Obama campaign reported an outstanding record, a devouring total of $150 million raised in September. On Monday, several sources reported Obama's lead shrinking both nationally and more importantly in key battleground states.
What's going on here?
What can we expect in these few remaining days?
Half a century ago, Malcolm X warned that when "we" started winning by their rules, "they" would change the rules. The desperate and despicable tactics of the McCain-Palin campaign have vividly illustrated the lengths that the reactionaries who have dominated for most the last decade will go in order to maintain power. There is less than one week left, but here are some of the problems we should be monitoring. Many of these are not only a threat to Obama's campaign, but much more importantly, a threat to a just participatory democracy and an anti-racist civil society. Even if Obama does win, which I fully expect, there is a real danger that long-lasting damage has been done to the American polity by some of the reactionary tactics of the GOP.
The Racist Card: GOP local chapters have been inciting nothing short of racial hatred, and it is having a discernible effect across the country in energizing the racist dregs of the nation. Outside of Chicago, the local CBS News affiliate reported Friday night about a sign surrounded by barbed wire that has an illustration of Obama portrayed as Bozo the Clown surrounded by the common circle with a negative slash. The caption read, "No Brozos." Photographs are circulating on the Internet showing a white male with a T-shirt reading "N**gers Please. It is called the White House."
The GOP itself has been complicit in evoking racist stereotypes. In California, a local volunteer group produced an image of Obama's picture superimposed on a $10 food stamp—which itself is surrounded by pictures of ribs, watermelon and fried chicken. While the local party apparatus that produced the flyer unconvincingly claimed they did not realize that the images were offensive (the head of the volunteer group claimed "It was just food to me. It didn't mean anything else"), a local black Republican activist called the flyer "awful." In Virginia, a local GOP official wrote a flyer that ridiculed Obama's potential appointments (and much of black America at the same time). He argued in part that Obama's "platform" would include hiring Ludacris to "paint the white house black," increase foreign aid "mostly to Africa" so that "the Obama family there can skim enough to allow them to free their goats and live the American Dream," and that Obama's drug policy consists of "raise taxes to pay for drugs for Obama's inner-city political base." One Sacramento California GOP official called for his troops to "waterboard" (the torture technique used by U.S. interrogators recently in the name of the "war on terror") Obama. Another Virginia GOP group produced a flyer that took Osama bin Laden's eyes, darkened the skin color around the eyes and then pasted the image into an anti-Obama poster. The text stated "America must look evil in the eye and never flinch."
The claim again was that this was not an anti-Obama ad per se, but in an environment in which Obama is being constantly linked to bin Laden, that claim does not hold. In addition, the McCain-Palin campaign and the RNC are producing automated telephone calls (robo-calls) that are so vicious and untrue that several leading GOP figures have denounced them. The goal of all of these attacks is to trigger enough racial resentment and animus to provoke white voters to turn away from Obama even if they agree with him on most issues. The National Republican Trust PAC has even resurrected Reverend Wright, something the McCain campaign had previously declared they would not do, as another racial issue designed to have whites vote their racial fears instead of their material interests.
It may be working in part. The national polls were all over the place. One Associated Press poll showed a one point Obama lead while the most recent Zogby poll showed a10-point lead. More ominously, Slate had revised its estimate of Obama's share of Electoral College votes from 313 down to 286 on Wednesday due to McCain's gains in the battleground states which is where much of the most vicious attacks on Obama are being concentrated.
Voter suppression is another phenomenon that is threatening to deeply undermine the democratic process and this election's outcome. Salon has an excellent state-by-state summary of the efforts that the GOP is conducting to disenfranchise likely Democratic voters—particularly black voters. And once again, the battleground states are the key focus. In Indiana, Pennsylvania and Ohio, the GOP targeted predominantly black counties. Voting-rights activists are claiming that 50 percent of those targeted in Florida are black and Latino. In Texas, there has been a longstanding effort by some Republican officials to prevent students at heavily Democratic-leaning historically black colleges from voting legally. Once again the sanctity of the democratic process itself is sacrificed in the name of preserving a reactionary racist political order.
GOP operatives viciously stepped up their racist attacks going into the last week of the campaign. The chairwoman of a New Mexico GOP group called Obama a "Muslim socialist." A co-chairman of McCain's campaign, former Oklahoma governor Frank Keating, called Obama a guy of the street who not only was a former drug user, but a leftist whose politics were once "very extreme." And, perhaps most horrifying has been Ashley Todd's attempt to create a do-it-yourself racist event. Todd, a volunteer for McCain, claimed that a black man assaulted and robbed her and then carved a "B" into her face because she was a McCain supporter. She later recanted and admitted she had fabricated the entire incident. And even the "B" was backwards.
Obama has been warning his supporters against complacency but using two words—"New Hampshire." For those of us concerned about democracy and the democratic process as much as outcome off the election, I think one word will suffice. Vigilance.
Michael C. Dawson is the John D. MacArthur Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago.