Obama lags in race-sensitive Penn primary

The closer we move toward the Pennsylvania Democratic primary, the more obvious it becomes that the 800-pound gorilla in the voting booth called race can not be ignored. We are told repeatedly by mostly conservative pundits, that the outcome will be determined by white-skinned, blue collar workers who, the pundits say, have nothing in common with Obama.

A variation of that theme is presented by Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, a Sen. Hillary Clinton supporter, who predicts that some white Pennsylvanians are likely to vote against Obama because he’s black. And of course, former president Bill Clinton has said that the country wants this presidential race to be between two patriots, his wife, Sen. Clinton, and Republican nominee John McCain. Clinton leads Obama by nine points (50-41) in the latest poll.

Obama maintains that the vast majority of the people in Pennsylvania and the nation are fair, honest, open-minded and won’t be swayed by a small minority stuck in a crippling cycle of ignorance and/or hatred. On Chris Matthews’ Hardball College Tour Wednesday, Obama described the nation as a melting pot, populated by various ethnic groups with much in common. He traveled across the state by bus last week, holding town meetings and sharing his vision, plans and hopes. Obama said his travels confirmed what he had hoped before he began his presidential bid: that people were ready for a new kind of politics. “We’re at our best when we work together; we’re at our worst when we are divided,” he said.

Recently, Obama won over at least one convert, Camp Hill mayor Lou Thieblemont, who switched his registration from Republican to Democrat to vote for Obama in the April 22 primary. “I’m sick and tired of the politics of fear in this country,” Thieblemont, 62, a retired airline pilot, told the Patriot-News. “(Obama) is the only one who doesn’t do that. He’s the only candidate who’s said he’d talk to our enemies and try to get some common ground.”

Obama’s promise of “Change We Can Believe In” probably won’t change the hearts and minds of those white Pennsylvanians in search of any excuse not to support the black candidate, who is the offspring of a white mother and black father.

Which raises the question: why is black + white = black? In the spirit of Obama’s call for us to re-examine our attitudes and feelings about race, the question of racial identification/classification ought to be among the issues re-visited. Right now, the core of the problem stems from the presumption of privilege bestowed upon those who are defined by the color white.

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