Open Thread: Will Senator Obama Suffer Racist Dirty Tricks?

(photo: Wa-J) This is an open thread on some comments from Republican operative Allen Raymond on racist dirty tricks used in recent campaigns. What do you make of his comments, and do you think there will be more? Please comment below as you see fit.

Some introduction first. I was talking with a friend recently about how the mainstream Republicans and the McCain campaign, or groups allied with them, will attack Senator Obama as we get closer to the November vote. Today, I belatedly discovered the tell-all book by Allen Raymond, former GOP consultant involved in New Hampshire phone jamming. Paul Kiel did this review that includes an account of some of the actions playing on whites’ racism that have worked in political campaigns.

Kiel first reviews the history:

Raymond got a call in 2000 from two former colleagues in New Jersey who ran a consulting shop…. They were working for Dick Zimmer, who was running against Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), the incumbent, and they were pulling out all the stops. They’d already succeeded in getting a Green Party candidate on the ballot to drain liberal votes from Holt (a favorite GOP trick). And they had already put Raymond’s firm to work calling Green-oriented households and urging them to support the Green candidate.

Then Kiel quotes from the book thus:

[They] called me up and asked, “How do you guys find voice talent?” “Well, I’ve got a whole catalog of different voices on CDs. I’ve got ‘single Northeastern female,’ I’ve got ‘Southern belle’ — what are you looking for?”

“We’re targeting Democrats of Eastern European descent using a surname select and geopolitical filter.” “Oh,” I said, quickly doing the polarizing-voter math in my head. “How about ‘angry black man’?” “Yeah, that sounds good. What’s his voice sound like?”

So I cued up one particular actor’s CD on my computer and put the phone to the speaker. The track I played was one in which the actor was deliberately playing up a street gang character…. So we had the actor record a spot over the telephone saying, “I’m calling as a Democrat, asking you to vote for the Democratic nominee. We need your vote for Holt.” … The message was “I’m ghetto black calling you, racist Ukrainian guy, and scaring the crap out of you because you probably think that if you don’t vote for the Democrat I’m going to come to your house and take care of some business.” The calls were extremely highly targeted, household by household, no message ever left on an answering machine. We wanted the message heard only by people whose reaction would be “I’m not voting for Holt because he uses scary black men to call my house.”

We made calls to Democratic union households supporting Zimmer, taped by actors putting on thick Spanish accents, figuring union workers were the voters who felt most threatened by immigration. The objective was to get them to throw up their hands and stay home on Election Day…. Zimmer [barely] lost the election by 481 votes and the Green Party candidate picked up 2 percent in the polls.

He then blames the voters for acting on their racist views and not voting for the Democratic candidates. There is so much here to analyze. What do you think?


  1. To be honest, I’m a bit weary of all the emphasis on Obama’s “move to the center.” He’s not moving anywhere. He positions havn’t changed. So why are the media so quick and seemingly happy to portray him as a conventional politician or a regular black trickster?

    I’m loathe to see racism in everything. But this coverage of Obama bothers me. He hasn’t changed his position on anything. Any help sorting this out will be appreciated.

  2. Joe Author

    Good points. A more subtle analysis of what you note as happening to Senator Obama and his policy positions should accent the old white racial frame in most white and other minds, with its A-to-Z negative stereotypes and emotions about black people, esp. black men. The white media see him mostly from that frame, and thus want to accent the Black man as “odd” (that is, not “us”), or as trickster or untrustworthy, or dangerous (Muslim) themes. This is just conventional framing in operation.

  3. Seattle in Texas

    It’s inevitable. They tried during the primaries too in a couple of different states using that recording trick, and even here in Texas (it was just a male robotic type voice though–or more like that guy who speaks for the emergency weather alerts and in the same boring, but offical voice down here–no not quite like Ben Stein). Oh some of the tricks in Texas over the last few months? Dirty. The problem then was we didn’t know for sure if they were from the Clinton campaign or the GOP folks. Nevertheless, most of the folks down here were too smart and it not impact the overall delegate count can caucusing in the end from the primaries to the state level, haha. The good thing about being in Republican state (for now at least–change is in the wind) is that the democrats, indepedents, and republicans crossing the fence know their game. It’s really sad what a joke our political institution(s) are and how things such as that is considered legitimate in terms of electing our officals. I personally think no religious, gender, political, etc. labels, names, or other identifying factors should be in place when people are running for political positions. There are ways it could be done and it would save so much money that could be better spent elsewhere…. But I am still hopeful that major changes are awaiting in the near future….

  4. Seattle in Texas

    I personally think that now the primaries are over and Clinton and Obama are some what uniting, even if she will not be his running mate, makes everything much more clear for the voters (in terms of where trash comes from) and it is important to educate the public (as is being done here) but those we get registered between now and November about these types of things so when they encounter a phone call, or an Anti-Obama smooth conversation, emails, etc., they know where it’s coming from, why, etc.–then have solid, legitimate, and truthful resources to go back to when if and when doubt begins kicking in. We know now which way it’s coming from at least! 😉

  5. admin

    Good points. It might be useful to constantly talk about dirty tricks whenever Democrats have any access to the media. Most people still do not know about these dirty tricks….

  6. Seattle in Texas

    I hope they will be more likely if they are even ever given the opportunity to do so…it seems the media just pretty much likes air trash and anything that brings in the most viewers…which seems to be mostly trash…. I think for this one the continued nationwide grassroots will be the key as it allows for interpersonal dialogue, questions asked and answered, interpretations of the dirty tricks while they are occurring/immediate intervention, etc.–but that’s just my thoughts…not giving up any hope here! 😀

  7. Good post, Joe. I don’t think there is any question that the right will play dirty pool in terms of race, but the main question will be in terms of how they do it. I expect a lot of localized tactics, exactly like the ones the Kiel excerpts describe above.

    Any such tricks will come to light quickly — especially given Obama’s extensive online organization — so the key for McCain will be to make sure there’s no tangible connection. He will (weakly) denounce any such behavior, of course, while continuing to reap the benefits.

  8. Joe Author

    Good comment, Dave. Obama is caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. He has to call our racist attacks, but by doing so he highlights for whites the point that he is assertively Black — and thus plays into the negative stereotypes in the old white racist frame. That frame is a killer of such campaigns, I fear.

  9. The Latin Community wants a change, now that Obama is the presidential candidate and a minority, most of the hispanic will vote for him. I believe most of the big states like California, Texas, New York, and Florida will be a big factor for Obama to win this election.

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