(Reader Advisory: The following contains humor as well as opinion. Proceed with caution.)
Everybody, stop saying "race card." As semi-evolved humanoids, we need to be able to talk about how racism, a colossal disgrace in the history of Western Civilization, might affect an election without reducing it to a breezy metaphor that evokes Casino Royale. The phrase reared its ugly head yet again earlier this month when Obama suggested that Republicans would try to scare voters by reminding us that he "doesn't look like those other presidents on the dollar bills." McCain hatchet chap Rick Davis accused Obama of "playing the race card... from the bottom of the deck."
First of all, Obama's seemly visage and those adorning our currency diverge in many ways besides relative levels of melanin. For example, Obama doesn't rock the powdered wig, yet. Nor coulottes. And he's not dead or green. So he may not have even been talking about race.
Second, how does one play the race card from the bottom of the deck? If you're going to sling metaphors, please try a little to be coherent. Is Mr. Davis suggesting that the bottom of the deck is dirtier because it touched the martini-soaked cocktail napkin of class warfare? Is the bottom of the race card deck where most subtle race cards go, because the fifty-two race cards progress from more to less blatant in their racial-ness? Is the only suit in the deck of race cards spades?
Third, it's not playing the race card if Obama's right, which he is, that Republicans will stoke the eternal flame of racism to win. In that case, it's just true. Saying something factual during an election may rob windbag pundits of work, but is no more playing a card than McCain reminding us for the billionth time that he was a POW in Vietnam. No one accuses McCain of playing the "I ate dirt in a cage" card.
Republicans will dust off every bauble from the treasure trove of racial paranoia, which is part of what McCain means by such "straight talk" as saying "gook." McCain seems like an old-school imperial racist, like he misses ye olde Pax Britannica and Cherokee-killer Andrew Jackson. Like he watched Gandhi and rooted for the British. I wouldn't be surprised if he campaigns wearing a pith helmet and an ascot, holding a riding crop.
Racism is an issue in politics (duh), not a card. Cards don't kill people. New York police didn't shoot up Sean Bell at his bachelor party because he was "inspiring." Michael Richards didn't yell "articulate" onstage six times in a minute. White teenagers in Jena, Louisiana did not hang nooses on a tree where black students ate lunch because the black students believed in hope.
Obama might be the first black president; of course it's about race. We're not beyond race until a black guy wins. Hint: we still have a race problem as long as some white folks try to convince us we don't. No one talks about whether America could elect a Catholic since we laid that controversy to rest in 1960 by electing a Catholic. See how it works? America elected a President who was a b-list actor and c-list politician in 1980, so today the political career of Fred Thompson doesn't appear as freakish as it really is. Yet Dennis Kucinich is unelectable, because as a nation we have an issue with hobbits. We're not even close to shattering that glass ceiling or fjord or whatever.
Take the polls about white voters who won't vote for Obama because he's black. Not only do they hold such notions in their feeble minds, some of these voters will actually say so out loud. On the phone. To a total stranger. We have a name for these people: bigots. Why do people with an antisocial pathology deserve to have their votes courted? We don't worry how child molesters vote. No one asks if Obama is in trouble because he's failed to erode McCain's overwhelming popularity among perverts. But by looking at the Megan's Law website, they may be as decisive a voting bloc as bigots in certain key districts. Yet day after day, the vituperators on cable news grant respectability to the whims of bigot voters.
So please boycott discussions of the "race card" and maybe we can talk about race and racism in ways that might, with a bit of effort, be illuminating.