News & Politics

The Racist Double-Standards of Election '08

To be a person of color is to have one's patriotism, motives, and beliefs scrutinized and put on trial, again and again.
The October surprise came a day late and a dollar short, but nevertheless it was calculated for maximum effect in the news cycle -- a story broke on Saturday can last all the way to Monday -- and on Nov. 1st it's just a few days before the election so it'll be memorable when folks go to the polls.

Or maybe not, given the amnesiac characteristic of the American people.

The story: that Obama's father's half sister, Ms. Zeituni Onyango, his half aunt, whom he met once in Kenya, is living illegally in the U.S. Worst, she made a $265 dollar contribution to his campaign and now the campaign is returning it to her. An internal investigation is being conducted by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office to determine the source of the leak.

Ms. Onyango is not considered a felon but after the court rejected her application for political asylum she didn't leave and now has committed what's considered an "administrative violation" of the immigration law.

But the bigger crime is for her, of course, to be related to Senator Barack Obama.

Illegal immigration being the hot button issue upon which neither McCain nor Obama pushed much during their campaign -- it's a lose-lose proposition: the moment you talk about it, you'll turn large swaths of people off. Depending which side of the issue you take, you'll lose voters one way or another. Whoever leaked the information from the immigration office, it was timed perfectly.

The term October surprise has been in used since 1972. The then presidential election between Republican incumbent Richard Nixon and Democrat George McGovern gave birth to the term. After years of negotiations with North Vietnam to end the Vietnam war, Henry Kissinger, presidential National Security Adviser, declared "Peace is at hand," at a press conference 12 days before election day. It helped Nixon to achieve a 20 points lead in the nationwide popular vote. Peace it turned out was not at hand until 3 years later but since then, the term "October surprise" has been in used.

In 1992 when incumbent George Bush senior ran against Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan's defense secretary Caspar Weinberger was implicated in the Iran-Contra scandal, just four days before the election. Weinberger was indicted on felony charges for having lied to the Iran-Contra independent counsel during its investigation. Independent Counsel Lawrence E. Walsh was accused by Republicans of timing Weinberger's indictment to hurt George H.W. Bush's re-election chances. Bush later pardoned Weinberger just days before his trial was scheduled to begin.

All things considered, the Nov 1st surprise of 2008 is not so shocking. If it's designed to effect those few who find issues of illegal immigration at the top of their list, it is a surprise that is in the face of a stark and far more shocking reality of an American economy on the verge of a nervous breakdown; that and voters' malaise with what the GOP has done to this country in the last 8 years. What's a foreign aunt to a collective and profound desire for real and positive Change?

Still, it is sad but true that so many people judge Obama not as an intelligent, dignified and capable individual but by the color of his skin and by all the associations he's purported to have had.

Often he's guilty by association, even if loosely. But the double standard is jarring.

Todd Palin's association with the Alaska Independence Party where its leader supported violence if necessary for secession, didn't bring down Sarah Palin. "The fires of hell are frozen glaciers compared to my hatred for the American government. And I won't be buried under their damn flag," these are the words of Joe Volger, its founder. No one questioned Sarah Palin's patriotism when she attended their convention and gave a speech.

Why didn't the sh*t hit the fans then?

For that matter, it's OK for Sarah Palin to have a child out of wedlock, and to have a teenage daughter pregnant also out of wedlock, and still somehow be the champion of family values but it would be political suicide for Obama to have a child out of wedlock.

McCain can be connected to the Keating Five debacle and survive. It's doubtful that Obama could. That Cindy McCain was addicted to painkillers and admitted it did not mar her husband's career. Were Michelle Obama to be found addicted to painkillers, it would be the end of the line for Barack Obama.

McCain, who has a thing for gambling, cheated then dumped his first wife and married an heiress and still is seen as an upstanding conservative politician. For Obama, such behavior would be political suicide.

[For that matter, it's OK for Hilary Clinton to go visit a mosque, but if Obama is even seen in front of one, his career would be ruined.]

To be a person of color one is an automatic suspect -- one's patriotism, one's motives, one's beliefs are to be scrutinized and put on trial, again and again.

To be considered as presidential contender, therefore, a person of color has to be doubly dignified, triply more intelligent and a ten times cleaner than his white counterparts -- not a whiff of corruption can be had -- or he has no possibility of moving forward and being accepted.

Yet under such extraordinary circumstances, with his path toward glory mined by misinformation, poisoned by ignorance and deep racial hatred, with the odds against him from the get-go, Obama delivers. Obama stirs voters in a way that is historic -- voting for many is no longer an intellectual exercise but something close to the beat of the heart.

AlterNet is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed by its writers are their own.

Don't let big tech control what news you see. Get more stories like this in your inbox, every day.