Wednesday, October 8, 2008

THAT One...what did he mean?

So yesterday was the second presidential debate--this time in a "town hall" format. Tom Brokaw was the debate moderator and the picture below shows the post-debate "thank yous" between the two candidates, their wives, and Tom.

In the post-debate spin, there's been a unanimous belief that Barack Obama "won" and that it wasn't a "game changer" for McCain, which he needed it to be given the fact that he is down in the polls.

But the question I want to pose for you in the blogosphere has to do with the comment that McCain made when he referred to Senator Obama as "THAT one":

Here's how it was described by a New York Times article:

In a moment that suggested Mr. McCain’s impatience with his opponent, he described the differences between the two candidates on energy policy.

“By the way, my friends, I know you grow a little weary of this back and forth: there was an energy bill on the floor of the Senate, loaded down with goodies, billions for the oil companies, and it was sponsored by Bush and Cheney,” he said. “You know who voted for it? You might never know.”

He cast his arm at Mr. Obama. “That one,” he said. “You know who voted against it? Me.”

In the MSNBC post-debate discussion, Chris Matthews and two talking heads (whom I can't recall right now) dissected the "THAT one" moment, with one politico noting how unfortunate that phrase was since McCain should have been more aware that gesturing at Obama and using this phrase in the dismissive manner that he did would hit some people the wrong way (ie: McCain is going to look like a racist, although the dreaded "R" word never came up in the politico's commentary).

Matthews and the other talking head dismissed the racial/racist overtones, and declared that his snideness was a result of his age rather than any inherent racism.

And actually, I agree. Or rather, I wouldn't be too quick to say that this particular snide instance was an example of McCain trying to be "racist." Dismissive? Yes. Condescending? Definitely. Deliberately meant to be a put down of Obama? Absolutely. A veiled racist phrase? Harder to interpret. McCain's no dummy--he's not about to use coded racial language during a televised debate in front of million of voters. This is NOT the time to start calling his opponent Barack HUSSEIN Obama (which IS in my opinion, a racist reference to Obama's Muslim heritage--so every time one of McCain's surrogates refers to Barack HUSSEIN Obama, it's really meant to remind everyone, HEY boys and girls, this guy has the same middle name as a deposed Muslim despot).

And I think it IS important to distinguish between real coded racist language versus snide remarks that could be interpreted as racist but may be an instance of just plain old condescension. Now. Let me also add this. I think it was stupid. I mean, really, stupid. Because of how easily McCain's comments CAN be interpreted as racist. And honestly, even though I don't *think* it is an instance of coded racist language, there's a part of me that really wonders...

For a pretty funny dissection of the phrase "THAT one" head over to this site, where you can also see a clip of McCain making this remark--see for yourself and weigh in on what YOU think about "THAT one."


D.J. said...

Hey Mixed,

I only have one problem with your argument about the "that one" comment. If Joe Biden had referred to Sarah Palin as "That One" during their debate, the right would have been up in arms. It would have been a sexual slur. "Joe Biden does not respect women, he is sexist!" Why is it that we are (and i mean we in the universal sense) always willing to forgive or gloss over a racially charged remark? all day long I have been hearing people (mostly whites) explaining this matter away and then in the same breath calling me sensitive for being upset. just a thought!

Evan Carden said...

@DJ ". If Joe Biden had referred to Sarah Palin as "That One" during their debate, the right would have been up in arms. It would have been a sexual slur." Yes, they would and they would have been wrong. So, let's be better than them, not the same.

Still, this is one white guy who has to agree with you. Five years ago, hell, five months ago, I'd have agreed that there was no way Senator McCain would have used (not particularly well) veiled racial terms (well, you know, other than anti-asian terms...), but (warning, shameless self-plug approaching)

He's changed and not for the better.

the city that never sleeps said...

McCain appears to be on a roll with the slip of the tongue remarks...
Did you hear his "My fellow PRISONERS" intro rather than what should have been "My fellow Americans"?

Makes you wonder..

Jennifer said...

Thanks, everyone for sending in comments.

City that never sleeps: didn't hear the McCain gaffe, but I'm not surprised--I don't mean by the content of the gaffe but just the fact that I'm sure he's exhausted--they've all been campaigning for over a year so you gotta figure that he (and Obama) are going to make a few.

d.j.: I hear you, I really do. But I agree with evan--I think that we have to take the higher road. The higher road is not the easier one to take, but it is important to wade through the b.s. to figure out the real stuff to work on.

I guess what I mean is this. While the "that one" comment is condescending and pointed and demeaning, if we jump on this as an instance of "racism" (which it might be tinged with some internalized racism by McCain--I'm not saying that this isn't a possible interpretation, but it's a harder one to make) then it becomes harder to show people (and I suppose I mean "the average American" whoever s/he is) what real comments embedded in racism look like.

Prime example: these instances, recently, of McCain supporters shouting "KILL HIM" when Obama's name gets mentioned at rallies--or comments that people are "afraid" or "scared" of an Obama presidency, or "afraid" of him because he is "Arab"--that stuff is TOTALLY mired in cultural and institutional racism and we really NEED To point it out to people because some people don't see it as such.

But I also hear you, d.j., on feeling frustrated by how quickly some people want to immediately dismiss any racist overtones to any comment--again, we are so afraid of really examining the underlying racism at work in our culture and society and so afraid of calling one another a "racist."

But I'll leave that for an upcoming post.

And sorry to everyone for how long I've been in replying to everyone's comments--lets just say it's midterm time in the semester and I'm trying to be a good teacher.