A reader writes:

I live in a conservative county just north of Atlanta and just wanted to let you know I am beginning to hear the rough sketches of the smears that will be used against Obama in this region. Most of them revolve around Obama being a Muslim and not just a Muslim but a terrorist sympathizer. This is not just an aberration. I have now heard this from a handful of family members and friends. I got into a shouting match with my mother last night due to her accusing Obama of being a Muslim. I have also received a few emails from right wing lunatics in my extended family.

The scary part is these are smart people. They are college educated and make six figure incomes. The anti-intellectualism in this area is off the charts and is truly terrifying. How can you argue with someone that accuses Barack Obama of sympathizing with terrorists? If the election comes down to Huckabee vs. Obama I am afraid we will enter into a new dimension of Christianist based politics. A more dangerous and potentially catastrophically divisive dimension.

I'm sure this will come. I'm not sure it will have much of an impact outside those places which would never vote for Obama anyway. But it may also be something we just have to go through. What Bush has created has a logic of its own.

It is a politics based on religious identity and the usual McCarthyite tactics that equate all criticism of the Decider with support for a lethal enemy. At some point, this beast has to be fought, not merely appeased or run from. That doesn't mean it should be fought on its own terms. And what Obama has so far shown - and I simply do not know whether he has the fortitude to keep it up - is a cool under fire, a refusal to take the bait of his opponents, and a determination to keep appealing to as many Americans as he can on unifying themes. It is beating Clinton. And if it can beat her, it can surely beat Huckabee.

The Republicans will have a very hard time attacking Obama on racial grounds without seeming to be overtly racist. So they will smear him as treasonous and use the religion card, however fallaciously. This meme is out there - disgracefully abetted by those now in power. The only way past it is through it. And the only mistake is fearing it. Don't under-estimate it, but don't fear it. And defeat it. Clinton simply cannot do that. But Obama has a chance.

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