today in black history

February 27, 2021

On this date in 2007 Brown University pledged to raise $10 million to make amends for benefiting from the enslavement of Africans.

The One

POSTED: October 09, 2008, 12:00 pm

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In the midst of Tuesday night’s presidential debate, the Republican candidate, Senator John McCain, appeared to have lost his composure when he referred to his opponent Senator Barack Obama as “that one.” The reference was made when McCain criticized Obama for supporting an energy bill in 2007. “It was an energy bill on the floor of the Senate, loaded down with goodies for oil companies, and it was sponsored by Bush and Cheney. You know who voted for it? You might never know. That one,” said McCain as he pointed toward his opponent.

The remark has ignited a firestorm over the blogosphere and Black radio with most people heaping criticism on Senator McCain for what they perceive to be a demeaning and racially insensitive slight toward Senator Obama. The sight of an older white male appearing to dehumanize a Black male, a presidential contender no less, sent chills through many viewers, Black and white, who believe the McCain campaign is now engaging in gutter politics in an act of desperation to salvage a campaign that is tanking. And despite Michelle Obama’s attempt to downplay Senator McCain’s comment during her appearance on CNN’s “Larry King,” the firestorm it created is not about to subside any time soon.

In many ways Tuesday night’s town hall debate had all the makings of the famous Kennedy-Nixon debate of almost fifty years ago. Though Kennedy and Nixon were peers in age, Richard Nixon appeared much older and was considered the political veteran having served in Congress and as Vice President in the Eisenhower administration. Kennedy, for his part, was considered to be the young upstart who critics questioned his preparedness to serve as well as his Roman Catholic faith. In 1960 the power of the visual helped define the election as one of generational change. Like then, the debate this past Tuesday was akin to one of those old Polaroid pictures, a developing image of the nation’s future that is coming into focus with each passing day.

For John McCain, Barack Obama is “that one.” The Arizona senator’s disdain for his opponent is clearly visible each time they share a stage and when the Republican, and his running mate Governor Sarah Palin, are on the campaign stump. Clearly, McCain is frustrated that after having run for the presidency once before and come up short, his path to the White House is now blocked by a young, charismatic junior Senator; a Black candidate to top it off. His reference to Senator Obama as “that one” was no slip of the tongue. It was John McCain’s conscious frame of reference. For McCain, his opponent is an object; something that is impeding his decades long yearning to sit in the Oval Office. Having wrapped himself in the American flag and done everything save appropriate the Statue of Liberty’s crown and hold her torch, McCain’s worldview is that there is only one real American in this race and it’s not “that one.”

Senator McCain’s remark is the type of subtle racism that is difficult to measure and easily dismissed by sympathizers who paint a picture of a post-racial America to justify their own biases. It is the catalyst that creates the so-called “Bradley effect,” the contradictory expression of racial neutrality in the preference of a Black candidate and the revelation of racial animus in the voting booth when opposing the same candidate by voting for the white opponent. What John McCain and many of his supporters would like you to believe is that their opposition to Senator Obama is patriotically driven; their belief that Senator Obama is neither prepared nor American enough to serve as commander-in-chief. In reality, they evoke a Jim Crow perspective that a Black American, no matter how qualified or educated, is not their equal or could possibly possess the ability to serve as the most powerful elected official in the world. In many ways it is parallel to how Black professionals were treated during the first half of the 20th century. The Black doctor, whether Meharry or Harvard trained, was simply “that one.”

The good news is that many young white voters do not carry that racial baggage. And even some white voters that do are not willing to deal their votes from the race deck at a time when they fear having their home foreclosed or the loss of their job and health insurance. Luckily for Senator Obama, the nation’s economic misfortune is forcing many white voters to honestly assess which candidate reflects their self-interest. With each passing day, whether in Michigan or Ohio, and increasingly in Florida, the realization is growing that the man Senator McCain derisively called “that one” is “the one” to lead the nation.

Walter Fields is Executive Editor of

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