Frank Rich's latest column for the Sunday Week in Review, "In Defense of White Americans," is perversely impressive, even fora columnistknown for dramatic (if usually risible) factual flourishes. Rich reached back three years, to Republican Sen. George Allen of Virginia's ill-advised "macaca" line during his re-election campaign to condemn the McCain-Palin ticket. As the headline indicates, he's defending white Americans (now that Obama is leading among whites) against a McCain-Palin ticket that's evidently trying to appeal to their bace instincts.
It seems like a century ago now, but it was only in 2005 that a National Journal poll of Beltway insiders predicted that George Allen, then a popular Virginia senator, would be the next G.O.P. nominee for president. George who? Allen is now remembered, if at all, as a punch line. But any post-mortem of the Great Republican Collapse of 2008 must circle back to the not-so-funny thing that happened on his way to the White House.
That would be in 2006, when he capsized his own shoo-in re-election race by calling a 20-year-old Indian-American "macaca" before a white audience (and a video camera). "Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia," Allen told the young Democratic campaign worker for good measure, in a precise preview of the playbook that has led John McCain and Sarah Palin to their tawdry nadir two years later.
Throughout the piece, Rich threw out hints that the GOP is trying to appeal to racism before finally coming out and saying, with no evidence, that the party "trades in racism."
There are at least two larger national lessons to be learned from what is likely to be the last gasp of Allen-McCain-Palin politics in 2008. The first, and easy one, is that Republican leaders have no idea what "real America" is. In the eight years since the first Bush-Cheney convention pledged inclusiveness and showcased Colin Powell as its opening-night speaker, the G.O.P. has terminally alienated black Americans (Powell himself now included), immigrant Americans (including the Hispanics who once gave Bush-Cheney as much as 44 percent of their votes) and the extended families of gay Americans (Palin has now revived a constitutional crusade against same-sex marriage). Subtract all those players from the actual America, and you don't have enough of a bench to field a junior varsity volleyball team, let alone a serious campaign for the Electoral College.
But the other, less noticed lesson of the year has to do with the white people the McCain campaign has been pandering to. As we saw first in the Democratic primary results and see now in the widespread revulsion at the McCain-Palin tactics, white Americans are not remotely the bigots the G.O.P. would have us believe. Just because a campaign trades in racism doesn't mean that the country is racist. It's past time to come to the unfairly maligned white America's defense.
Nor is America's remaining racism all that it once was, or that the McCain camp has been hoping for it to be. There are even "racists for Obama," as Politico labels the phenomenon: White Americans whose distrust of black people in general crumbles when they actually get to know specific black people, including a presidential candidate who extends a genuine helping hand in a time of national crisis.
The original "racist for Obama," after all, was none other than Obama's own white, Kansas-raised grandmother, the gravely ill Madelyn Dunham, whom he visited in Hawaii on Friday. In "Dreams From My Father," Obama wrote of how shaken he was when he learned of her overwhelming fear of black men on the street. But he weighed that reality against his unshakeable love for her and hers for him, and he got past it.
When Obama cited her in his speech on race last spring, the right immediately accused him of "throwing his grandmother under the bus." But Obama's critics were merely projecting their own racial hang-ups. He still loves his grandmother. He was merely speaking candidly and generously - like an adult - about the strange, complex and ever-changing racial dynamics of America. He hit a chord because many of us have had white relatives of our own like his, and we, too, see them in full and often love them anyway.
I'm sure Obama's grandmother would have beenjust thrilled to be publicly placed on the level of anti-American racist Rev. Jeremiah Wright for the sake of getting out of a political jam - the only reason Obama embarked on that absurdly over-praised race speech, which the Times likened to speeches by Lincoln and JFK.
Rich concluded by saying only race-blinded conservatives could disagree with Obama throwing his grandmother under the bus:
Such human nuances are lost on conservative warriors of the Allen-McCain-Palin ilk. They see all Americans as only white or black, as either us or them. The dirty little secret of such divisive politicians has always been that their rage toward the Others is exceeded only by their cynical conviction that Real Americans are a benighted bunch of easily manipulated bigots. This seems to be the election year when voters in most of our myriad Americas are figuring that out.