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Worrying about what happens if Obama loses

THIS PAST week, I’ve been worrying a good deal over the very thing that has had Republicans so giddy and Democrats in such dudgeon: the distinct possibility that Barack Obama may lose this election.

At this point, you reflexive Republicans need to remove your feet from the stirrups of your high horses. I didn’t say I was worried that John McCain might win. I like McCain. My worry arises from the fact that the other guy I like might lose, which is a different consideration altogether.

Back during the conventions, I was bewildered by something Bill Moyers kept saying in a promo during station breaks on PBS, something to the effect of the stakes never having been higher than in this election. Really? I said on my blog. How about 1932? Or 1800...? Or how, pray tell, about 1860? Pretty doggoned high stakes there, I’d venture to say.

Mike Cakora responded that Mr. Moyers was “simply conveying the left’s notion that over the past eight years the US has been governed, no, ruled by a war-mongering, liberty-restricting criminal enterprise and now is the time to end that... .”

For me, that brought to the fore a thing that had until then dwelt at the back of my mind: that if Barack Obama loses this election, Democrats — who have been very charged up about their expectation of winning, and whose hatred of Republicans has reached new depths in the past eight years, will be so bitter that — and I dread even to form this thought — the political polarization will be even worse in this country., to name but one segment of the alliance, will probably implode to the point of nuclear fusion.

(Republicans, by contrast, have been expecting to lose all year. This had calmed them. As recently as 10 days ago, when I wrote that Moyers post, I would have expected the GOP to accept defeat in November relatively fatalistically. Of course, that was before Sarah Palin got them excited. Now, if they lose, I expect the usual level of bitterness, just not as severe as what I think is in store if Democrats lose.)

That’s without taking race into consideration. But my attention was yanked in that direction by a guest column by my old friend Joe Darby on Friday’s op-ed page. An excerpt:

Those who criticized Sen. Obama for his lack of experience, labeled him as long on rhetoric and charisma and short on substance and said they can’t vote for him because they don’t “know” him have gleefully embraced a governor who hasn’t completed her first term...

When you strip away the hyperbole and the political strategy, Sarah Palin has been hailed as an exemplary choice... simply because she’s white and because white, middle America identifies with her...

Somehow, Rev. Darby looked at the fact that Republicans like an inexperienced conservative Republican, but don’t like an inexperienced liberal Democrat, and saw it as racism. After more than half a century living in this country, I should not be shocked at yet another excruciating instance of the apparently unbridgeable cognitive divide between black and white Americans. But I was shocked, and even more worried.

I had already sensed a potent paradox flowing through the black electorate: disbelief that a black man (if you consider Obama to be a black man, which I don’t — another subject for another day) has won a major party nomination, combined with an expectation that he will now go all the way.

But that had not prepared me for Rev. Darby seeing racism in the fact that Republicans like Sarah Palin and not Barack Obama. To my white brain (and I don’t think of myself as having a “white brain,” but my inability to follow such logic as this suggests that I do), this made no kind of sense. I invite you to go read the piece — the link, as usual, is on my blog — and see if it makes sense to you.

I was still reeling from the implication of that piece when I read this in The Wall Street Journal Friday morning:

An anxious murmur is rising among black voters as the presidential race tightens: What if Barack Obama loses?... If Sen. Obama loses, “African-Americans could be disappointed to the point of not engaging in the process anymore,” or consider forming a third political party, said Richard McIntire, communications director for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

This is not a good place to be.

I first met Joe Darby 15 years ago. The newspaper sponsored a black-white dialogue group that was coordinated by a reporter I supervised. Joe was one of the panelists, and I was struck by his patience and mildness of manner in explaining his perspective to whites flustered over black citizens’ sense of aggrievement.

I’m sure Joe would have been just as patient with the white acquaintance — someone I’ve known for many years, and who is no kind of racist — who approached me Friday morning to say, “That Joe Darby is a racist.” I insisted that I knew Joe Darby well, and he was not, but this reaction was just what I had predicted to a colleague when I saw the proof the day before: The guest column was the kind of thing that alienates white conservatives, driving the wedge of race deeper into the nation’s heart. (So why run it? Because I knew Rev. Darby and others sincerely believed what he was saying, and a newspaper’s role is to put everyone’s political cards on the table.)

Fifteen years after that black-white dialogue experience — and many, many less formal such dialogues later — I find myself close to despair that mutual understanding can be achieved.

Particularly if Barack Obama loses the election.

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