MSNBC's Brewer: Does Obama Stand a Chance in the Racist South?

Contessa Brewer with Christopher Dickey, MSNBC News Live | NewsBusters.orgNewsweek Paris bureau chief Christopher Dickey appeared as a guest on the August 4 edition of MSNBC’s “News Live” to discuss a recent trip through the South he took in order to determine “if Obama's candidacy was helping to pull people in the South together, freeing them of their histories, or pushing them apart.” During their discussion, the two journalists disparaged white Southerners who are skeptical of Obama as racists.

Responding to an inquiry by Brewer about his description of emotions in the South as “raw,” Dickey rendered any hesitations white Southerners may have with Obama as thinly-veiled racism:

The South is part of the country that’s had to deal with race as an issue for a very long time and often very painfully so the idea that Obama is a black man that may be the next President of the United States has raised hopes among African-Americans tremendously, uh, but it’s also raised a lot of concerns among whites who may not talk about it as a race question but raise lots of other issues that may in some cases be code for race.

In following up with that response, Brewer noted that Southerners often deal with the stereotype that they are all racists, yet proceeded to depict them as clinging -- I suppose bitterly along with guns and Bibles -- to racist traditions:

There are probably a lot of families, too, who are wary of that stereotype, that racist stereotype that gets slapped on the South so frequently, but in your travels, you found merchants who are selling what clearly are hurtful symbols of the South's racist past. And so how does Barack Obama really stand a chance in places where so many people do cling to their Southern, sometimes racist traditions?

The transcript of the August 4 segment, which aired at 10:37 a.m., follows:

 

CONTESSA BREWER, host: Barack Obama is crossing the Mason-Dixon line with a new strategy to compete in traditionally Republican states. He’s trying to win crucial southern votes. Newsweek’s Christopher Dickey took a road trip through Tennessee and Georgia and the Carolinas to find out if Barack Obama’s candidacy is bringing people together or dividing the South even further. Christopher, I suppose this is a far cry from what you're normally doing, bureau chief there in Paris.

CHRISTOPHER DICKEY, Newsweek: Well, yes, it is, but my family has very deep roots in the South so it was also like a homecoming trip.

BREWER: So, when you go there, you described emotions as being raw. What did you mean by that?

DICKEY: Well, I think the idea that we could have a black president is something that is very much on the surface in the South. The South is not the only place where race may be an issue. The South is part of the country that’s had to deal with race as an issue for a very long time and often very painfully so the idea that Obama is a black man that may be the next President of the United States has raised hopes among African-Americans tremendously, uh, but it’s also raised a lot of concerns among whites who may not talk about it as a race question but raise lots of other issues that may in some cases be code for race.

BREWER: There are probably a lot of families, too, who are wary of that stereotype, that racist stereotype that gets slapped on the South so frequently, but in your travels, you found merchants who are selling what clearly are hurtful symbols of the South's racist past. And so how does Barack Obama really stand a chance in places where so many people do cling to their Southern, sometimes racist traditions?

DICKEY: Well, I think that the real key for him is going to be whether people who don't want him as president go out and vote for McCain. The flip side of what I saw on the anti-Obama course of this trip was no McCain bumper stickers, no McCain signs in people's yards. There is not a lot of enthusiasm for McCain in the South. There's a lot of worry about Obama. So, if McCain voters stay home, and Obama can mobilize, really heavily mobilize black voters and those liberal voters who are sympathetic to his message in the South, then he might have a chance.

BREWER: What did you see in terms of resources being spent in these places where President Bush in both 2000 and 2004 swept these states?

DICKEY: Well, he did. And I think Obama’s best chance is probably in Virginia because of northern Virginia, but there are certainly resources being spent in North Carolina and in Georgia and sometimes you come across evidence of Obama at organization in places you wouldn't expect it. There was a sort of a civic fair in Crawford, Georgia, last week and there was a big Obama stand and people were canvassing for him. White people.

BREWER: In some of these places where if you look that President Bush took Georgia by 17 points, Virginia, you mentioned, 9 points there. Are these places where, with enough money, with enough voter registration that they become competitive for Barack Obama?

DICKEY: Well, that's what his campaign seems to believe, that if he puts enough money in there, if he avoids the wedge issues that Bush exploited in 2004 and 2000 then he may have a chance. Frankly, my impression is he does not. He is not likely to win North Carolina or Georgia. But we still have several weeks to go.

BREWER: Christopher Dickey, always a pleasure to see you. Thank you for coming in.

DICKEY: Thank you.