Reports on the U.S. presidential election seem to have focused for the last day or two on accusations from the McCain camp that Obama played the “race card” against McCain.  Having seen the Obama comments in question, I personally have concluded that this is just an instance of faux outrage on the part of McCain in an attempt to play the victim before the voters.

However, as an upper-middle class college-age California Democrat, I’m obviously not in McCain’s intended audience, so I’m wondering exactly why such a ploy on McCain’s part would be in any way successful.  What does this say about American voters?  Is this episode symptomatic of some underlying resentment in “Middle America” towards the Civil Rights Movement?  Is McCain playing on white expectations of the black candidate as consumed with playing the victim?  You get the idea.


Certainly there’s ongoing resentment, especially in the Republican base, towards blacks.  Hostility to blacks is openly expressed in talk radio, but on op-ed pages it’s disguised as opposition to “affirmative action” (that is, to attempts to stop discrimination).  The arguments pretend to be meritocratic (as if conservatives believed in merit backed in Jim Crow days), but the game is given away by the fact that there’s no similar outrage directed against athletic scholarships or legacy admissions.

As for McCain, my impression is that he’s rather desperately shooting off his mouth, saying any damfool thing to make Obama look bad.  It doesn’t have the Satanic deviousness of Rovism; it’s just bilious.  He’s accused Obama of being out of touch on Iraq when Obama’s position is increasingly that of our military commanders and the Iraqi government; he criticized him for not going to Iraq and then for going there; he whines about not getting media attention; he sputters over Obama calling him on the race-baiting. 

Billmon has a good post pointing out that McCain’s amazing ability to wow the press corps covers an extremely calculating political career: McCain spouts whatever he needs to say for momentary advantage.

McCain has been pushing oil drilling, another infuriatingly dishonest idea.  Restrictions on drilling in Alaska didn’t cause today’s high prices and won’t bring them down.  But as Paul Krugman points out, lying works: half the public believes that drilling will bring quick price relief.

Will it work this year?  We shouldn’t underestimate the power of fear and deceit.  But I think the public is tired of Iraq and of governmental incompetence, and McCain’s ill humor is unattractive and doesn’t add up to much of a program.  The voters don’t like wimps (cf. Dukakis) but they tend to prefer the candidate who seems warmer.  And John McCain doesn’t do warm.