Take columnist Bob Herbert and the Paris Hilton ad. This ad uses footage of Obama's rally in Germany in front of the Victory Column. This is obvious to anyone who paid attention to Obama's campaign. But that's not what Herbert sees. He sees pictures of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Washington Monument and he is sure that these phallic symbols were used in conjunction with pictures of two blonds to subconsciously remind us that we should be afraid of black men.
So, how could Herbert make this mistake? Anyone who saw footage of Obama's German speech, or even someone who had only heard of it, would know what column was pictured and why (because that's where Obama gave his speech). Herbert must have seen pictures of it. So how could he get it wrong?
I can think of two possibilities. The charitable one is that he is so fixated on McCain's alleged racism that it caused him to see things that weren't there. The darker possibility is that he knew better but figured that his audience would not. In other words, he may have been willing to lie in order to perpetuate the illusion that McCain is running a racist campaign.
That is nothing compared to Slate's Timothy Noah. Noah was responding to a humorous column by Amy Chozick in the Wall Street Journal. Chozick wrote that someone as skinny as Obama cannot relate to a country of overweight voters. Noah found this a racist comment using some of the most strained logic I can remember.
To simplify, since Obama is black, any reference to his appearance that doesn't mention his skin color reminds us of his skin color through omission. So, not reminding people that Obama is as bad or worse than calling him the "N word". Using Noah's reasoning there is no way to refer to Obama in an unfavorable light without being racist.
Let's review the basics. Barack Obama is the first African-American to win a major-party nomination for president of the United States. African-Americans are distinguishable from other Americans by their skin color. This physical attribute looms large in our nation's history as a source of prejudice.The promise of Obama's presidency, in many people's minds, is partly that America will move toward becoming a post-racial society. It's pretty clear, though, that we aren't there yet. When white people are invited to think about Obama's physical appearance, the principal attribute they're likely to dwell on is his dark skin. Consequently, any reference to Obama's other physical attributes can't help coming off as a coy walk around the barn.
That's what this is really about. Obama's supporters are trying to insulate Obama through cries of racism. This isn't working and invites a backlash. Obama is weakest among white voters and unjustified claims of racism will only hurt him with this group.
For 25 ways that you might be racist, see here.