Heads, You're a Racist. Tails, You're a Racist!

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As I've said before, I'm been somewhat baffled by the McCain campaign's decision to spend its final weeks accusing Barack Obama of being a "spread the wealth" liberal, given that this is more or less how Obama has been campaigning all year long: Taxing the rich to pay for health care and and middle-class tax cuts isn't his domestic agenda's dirty little secret; it is his domestic agenda! But now, thanks to John Judis, the McCain strategy becomes crystal clear:

I mention the Bradley effect because I think, too, that McCain and Sarah Palin's attack against Obama for advocating "spreading the wealth" and for "socialism" and for pronouncing the civil rights revolution a "tragedy" because it didn't deal with the distribution of wealth is aimed ultimately at white working class undecided voters who would construe "spreading the wealth" as giving their money to blacks. It's the latest version of Reagan's "welfare queen" argument from 1980. It if it works, it won't be because most white Americans actually oppose a progressive income tax, but because they fear that Obama will inordinately favor blacks over them. I don't doubt that this argument will have some effect, but I suspect it's too late and that worries about McCain and Republican handling of the economy will overshadow these concerns.

Noam Scheiber agrees, adding: "Worse, though I have no evidence for this (nothing new there), I worry that these insinuations are reinforced in the minds of working-class whites by the millions of African-Americans lining up early to vote for Obama."

Maybe if you have "no evidence" for worrying about a McCain victory on the basis of a racist backlash, you shouldn't speculate publicly about it! Look - I know that liberals are panicky about blowing the election, and I understand that some weird bad race-related mojo is the only way that they can imagine Obama blowing it. And I know that Judis has written before about research into the kind of effect he's positing here. But really. I'm sure I'm displaying my immense naivete about the sinister machinations of Steve Schmidt and company here, but if I had John McCain's disposable income I'd happily put up tens of thousands of dollars betting that the "don't let Obama spread your wealth to shiftless blacks" ploy that Judis is describing has not once been a topic of conversation in any McCain strategy session throughout the whole "Joe the Plumber" phase of the campaign. (Though maybe it's such a subtle strategy that even the strategists themselves don't realize they're employing it!)

Moreover, under the standard Judis is using, it seems as though any attack a conservative could possibly launch on a black Democrat's liberalism is racially-charged by definition. Seriously - is there any attack McCain could launch against Obama at this point, whether policy-driven or personal, that couldn't be read, in some tortured fashion, as a racist appeal?

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Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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