NEWSWEEK: Cover: Obama's Bubba Gap

Deep Rooted Race and Class Issues are Changing the 'Hope' Election to a

'Fear' Election

Wary of His Wide Appeal, Opponents are Painting Obama as an Out-of-Touch


Apr 27, 2008, 01:00 ET from Newsweek

    NEW YORK, April 27 /PRNewswire/ -- There was a time, not so long ago,
 when the advisers to John McCain worried about running against Barack
 Obama, who seemed to have a kind of transcendent power, an ability to
 convince voters that he was not just another politician. In the May 5
 Newsweek cover package "Obama's Bubba Gap" (on newsstands Monday, April
 28), Editor-At-Large Evan Thomas, White House Correspondent Holly Bailey
 and Senior White House Correspondent Richard Wolffe report on why and how
 Obama's opponents are now tapping into American's fears of the "other" and
 painting Obama as an out-of- touch elitist, who nibbles daintily at
 designer salads while the working man, worried about layoffs at the plant,
 belts another shot.
     (Photo: )
     Americans do not like to talk about class, and they want to believe
 racism is a thing of the past. We want our presidents to be everyman (or
 every woman), of the people for all the people. The most successful
 presidents have always been open and hopeful, sunny and optimistic about
 the promise of American equality and opportunity. But there has long been a
 dark side to democratic politics, a willingness to play on prejudice, to
 get men and women to vote their fears and not their hopes. Those prejudices
 fade and seem to die down, but they never quite go away. They remain embers
 for cunning political operatives to fan into flames.
     In a new Newsweek Poll, 19 percent of American voters say that the
 country is not ready to elect an African-American president. Yet when asked
 if Barack Obama's race makes a difference, only 3 percent of whites say his
 race makes it less likely they would support him, while 5 percent of whites
 (and 16 percent of non-whites) say his race would make it more likely they
 would support him. In the Newsweek Poll, more than half the voters said
 they think "most" (12 percent) or "some" (41 percent) of the voters will
 "have reservations about voting for a black candidate that they are not
 willing to express." In close elections, decided on the margins, it is
 discouraging to think that a small minority of racists could make the
     To pockets of America, Obama still seems to be the "other." He seems a
 little strange, exotic; those cracked e-mails whispering about his middle
 name (Hussein) and declaring, fictitiously, that he is a Muslim who
 insisted on being sworn into office on the Qur'an rather than the Bible,
 keep buzzing around the Internet. To some, his manner is haughty; he is a
 bit of an egghead, one of those pointy-headed intellectuals whom George W.
 Bush liked to ridicule as a Deke brother at Yale and even later as
 president of the United States.
     In the Newsweek Poll, 13 percent reported that Obama is Muslim.
 Newsweek reporters on the campaign trail could hear the wariness, even
 fearfulness, of voters as they spoke about Obama. Secretly taped by a
 "citizen journalist," then reported online, Obama's remarks to San
 Francisco fund-raisers-that some voters in economically depressed towns
 "cling" to religion and guns out of "bitterness" -- did not sit well, nor
 did the endlessly replayed YouTube videos of Obama's former pastor, the
 Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., ranting against America. Richard Vallejo, 65, of
 Bristol, Pa., a typical working-class town, has voted Democratic all his
 life. But of Obama, Vallejo says: "He's prejudiced against white people.
 I'm in a small town and if I own a gun, it's not because I'm bitter. It is
 because of the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms."
     Hillary Clinton has described Obama's remarks about small-town
 bitterness as "elitist, out of touch and frankly patronizing." Clinton
 strategist Harold Ickes tells Newsweek "she clearly has established a
 connection with people who work hard for a living and are having difficulty
 making ends meet." One Clinton ad, featuring a waitress in a diner, says,
 "She's worked the night shift, too" (never mind that she is a graduate of
 Wellesley and Yale Law). McCain's advisers, meanwhile, have enjoyed
 watching Clinton attack Obama over his remarks. "Manna from heaven," said
 one McCain aide, who did not wish to be identified gloating. Come the fall
 campaign, GOP operatives can be counted on to caricature Obama as a
 gutter-ball-throwing populist phony who is far more at home in a
 sherry-sipping faculty club than at a bowling alley.
     Also in the cover package:
     Senior Editor and Columnist Jonathan Alter writes that a President
 Barack Hussein Obama would pose a shock to the country's system.
 "Opposition to him is not so much old-fashioned racism as fear of the
 'other,' with the subtext not just our tortured racial history, but tangled
 views of class and patriotism ... Fortunately for him, different strains of
 the American character often work to ease our anxieties: openness,
 optimism, hope."
     Contributing Editor Ellis Cose writes that the surprise in the
 Pennsylvania Democratic primary was that recent events had virtually no
 effect on the result. "Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton could have stayed
 home for the past month and a half and the outcome would have been
 essentially the same. Women and older voters, for the most part, would have
 come out for Clinton; blacks, young people and the highly educated elite
 would have backed Obama." Cose adds that while this is good news for Obama
 in the short term, it "might be fatal later. Demographics don't necessarily
 favor him, or any Democrat, in the general election."
     Associate Editor Raina Kelley writes that "the idea that the black
 candidate is successfully being portrayed as an elitist by the two white
 candidates is priceless, and may be the truest indicator of how far
 African- Americans have come since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther
 King Jr. 40 years ago," she writes. "If Obama seems alien, it may not be
 simply because he's the African-American presidential front runner, but
 because he's an African-American politician who doesn't flaunt his
 scars...As he says again and again in speeches, only in this country would
 his story be possible."
(Read cover story at Cover: Obama's Bubba Gap Jonathan Alter: Hope vs. Fear Ellis Cose: McCain's Hidden Advantage Raina Kelley: An Unfamiliar Narrative

SOURCE Newsweek