Sunday, October 05, 2008

Some Obama backers in Va. tackle race head-on

Some supporters of Barack Obama in heavily white Southwest Virginia are turning the underlying issue of race into an up-front issue, reports Peter Wallsten of the Los Angeles Times.

"Some Americans say Obama's race and uncommon background make them uncomfortable -- here those people include Democratic precinct chairmen and get-out-the-vote workers," Wallsten writes. "So Obama's supporters, as they push to win this dead-even battleground state, are talking directly about race, betting that the best way to raise their neighbors' comfort level with the prospect of the first black president is to openly confront their feelings."

United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts says the choice is "a black friend in the White House or a white enemy," and in an 18-minute video goes right at race and religion: "We go to church, sing our songs, pray, come out and talk about, 'I can't be for an African American, because of the color of his skin.' Can't do that if you believe in the Bible." Another Obama supporter says he reminds friends that they cheer for athletes at the University of Tennessee, "and they're black."

But in Buchanan County, where Virginia meets Kentucky and West Virginia, Beth Bailey, 25, says Obama "just doesn't seem like he's from America," and Ben Bailey, 32, "noted that Obama's middle name is Hussein, 'and we know what that means.' Beth's father, Josh Viers, is the party's Whitewood (Encarta map) precinct chairman, responsible for working the polls and urging Democrats to vote the party line. He came around to backing Obama only recently, and reluctantly." Democrats can't expect likewise of some precinct officials, so the UMW is canvassing all voters, not just its members and retirees.

It's an uphill battle. The Voice, one of two weekly newspapers in the county, printed a column by county Republican Party treasurer Bobby May (who wasn't identified as such) saying that Obama would change the national anthem to the Black National Anthem, support reparations for slavery and raise taxes for the teaching of black liberation theology in all churches, and many other outlandish notions. May "was listed in a July news release as the county's representative on McCain's Virginia leadership team, though he said his column reflected his views alone, and he denied it was racist," Wallsten reports. We're very reluctant to tell community newspapers how to run their business, but since false rumors have plagued both presidential nominees, we think publishing such columns is irresponsible, and failing to identify partisan writers as party officials is even more so. (The initial version of this item misidentified the newspaper.) UPDATE, Oct. 12: The Associated Press reports that the McCain campaign has ousted May as its Buchanan County chairman.

McCain spokeswoman Gail Gitcho told Wallsten that Obama and his running mate, Joe Biden, are not true friends of the region's coal industry, as demonstrated by Biden's contradictory statements about clean-coal technology. "We certainly don't believe that race has any part in the political discourse," Gitcho said. Wallsten adds: "But here in Buchanan County, it is unavoidable." (Read more)

Meanwhile, in The New York Times today, columnist Nicholas Kristof notes research suggesting that while about 10 percent of Americans are racially prejudiced, "most of the votes that Mr. Obama actually loses belong to well-meaning whites who believe in racial equality and have no objection to electing a black person as president — yet who discriminate unconsciously." (Read more)


Anonymous said...

One correction--this was not printed in the Virginia Mountaineer. There is another paper in the county, The Voice, in which the column was printed.

Anonymous said...

Well, I think the journalists should have traveled to Coeburn, Virginia, 51 miles away from Grundy, Buchanan County, Virginia. Ralph Stanley - O Brother Where Art Thou movie track which sold over 6 million copies, has come out with a radio ad endorsing Obama. This radio ad has been labeled campaign ad of the season.

I listened to the ad online and watched a video where Ralph Stanley and brother, Carter Stanley (now deceased) are singing, "It Takes a Worried Man to Sing a Worried Song." The recording was from early days. Very effective.
My first cousin was writing articles for The Voice but family tells me he and Bobby May had a falling out. It could be political in nature. I don't know.
All my family is from Grundy, Buchanan County Virginia and I may be related to Bobby May. It is hard to tell but I'm glad McCain has him.
I think the journalists stopped 1 or 2 hollows short in getting opinions.
B. L. Dotson-Lewis

Al Cross said...

Thanks, Betty. Here's a link to the radio ad:

Al Cross said...

A very long comment thread on Talking Points Memo includes the lyrics to "Rank Stranger:"