One of the more obvious parallels between movies and real life are Sen. Obama and Bart, the Black sherrif in Blazing Saddles, played by Cleavon Little. For those who don’t know of this film (minus 200 cool points if you do not), it features Little and his partner, the Waco Kid (Gene Wilder) winning the hearts and minds of a reluctant and racist town of White folks in need of some protection from some ruthless villains in the old West.
Bart eventually made the townsfolk ignore, not forget about, his race with a smooth charm, dry wit, nice leather chaps and a quick mind and hands. They were in dire straits and they needed someone – anyone – who could offer a better solution than the one they had at the time. Sounds familiar.
Bart didn’t have to face anything like the Bradley Effect, the people he was sworn to protect were out and out bigots. But in the same way Bart beat back their fears and doubts, Obama is convincing many skeptics that he’s the right man to clean up this here town.
Obama’s ability to smooth talk concerns and allay fears is only part of the reason why he, and other latter day Black politicians are able to mount serious campaigns for executive and statewide offices. Here are a couple more:
1) They aren’t the same old politicians. Obama, Deval Patrick, Harold Ford Jr., Moseley Braun, these men and women don’t come from the old Civil Rights movement era. They aren’t ministers, they’re lawyers. They don’t have the baggage of being “rabble rousers” and labeling them as troublemakers doesn’t stick, no matter how hard you try. Older White voters can be comfortable with them. They’ve cultivated a “mainstream” image.
2) Attitudes have changed. Yep, somewhere out there there’s a chart that shows how much less racist a society we live in today than we lived in 20 years ago. While the current campaign proves that old attitudes die hard, they are diminishing at least. Outright introduction of racial issues, as was seen at the end of the Gantt/Helms contest, would likely be frowned upon. These days you have to dance around the issue.
We don’t know whether this will be enough to overcome Bradley, however it’s likely these things have made a difference previously. The difference between Obama/McCain and those other races are that there were almost no thinly veiled references to race (save the “Call Me” ad in the Ford/Corker race). We’ve seen that race is definitely an issue as the Obama/McCain race winds down.
The other difference? The current campaign is for President. There’s much more to lose. Enlightenment may well go out the window, if it hasn’t already.
An afterthought: Of course we know the kind of excitement Obama’s campaign has generated within the African American community (and yes Latino and Asian). The excitement is translating into new registrants, hundreds of thousands of them. If they turn out en masse, we may see a Clinton-esqe landslide as a result.