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Commentary: Six Degrees of Obama and McCain

By Chris Tucker, KERA Commentator

Dallas, TX –

To get elected, presidential candidates must assemble vast coalitions of millions of voters who may differ on many things from morals to accents to shopping habits, favorite TV shows, church attendance, and more. In fact, they may have robust disagreements on almost everything but the necessity of electing their chosen leader.

Historically, this has long been true. Franklin Roosevelt built winning coalitions that included hard-line segregationists and impoverished African-Americans, big-city Jewish voters and Western ranchers. Ronald Reagan's army contained born-again evangelicals and many whose Holy Grail was a vigorous, unfettered capitalism.

Today, both the Obama and McCain coalitions are filled with sometimes contradictory elements: churchgoers, atheists, hunters, housewives, rich, poor, pro-immigration, anti-immigration and so on. And that means fertile ground for the "six degrees" game as played by both sides.

Most famously, Barack Obama has been criticized for being a degree or two away from the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright and the Sixties radical Bill Ayres. Early on, John McCain was slammed for being one degree away from the Rev. John Hagee of Texas, who had made inflammatory remarks about Catholics. And of course the Obama campaign has argued all along that McCain has little or no separation from President Bush.

Obviously, the six degrees game in politics requires a curious kind of selective perception. In order to stay positive about the candidate we favor, we don't dwell on disagreements we may have with others in our coalition. Instead, we follow the old adage "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." And, while repressing awareness of our hero's links to unsavory types, we heavily stress the other candidate's connections.

For many fervent supporters of one side or the other, there is no statute of limitations for the six degrees game. Obama-bashers consider it fair to point out that Obama, as a teenager, read the works of Malcolm X. McCain-bashers, on the other hand, note his connection to G. Gordon Liddy, who was convicted more than thirty years ago in the Watergate scandal.

If you oppose Obama, you probably see his connection to Wright and Ayres as a legitimate matter that needs more attention. If you oppose Sarah Palin, you might like to see much more focus on her husband's connections to the Alaskan Independence Party, some of whose members have made noises about secession in the past.

If you support Obama, on the other hand, you probably believe he's a fine American who would never sip from the poisoned cup of extremism. If you support Palin, you probably believe she's a fine American who would never back any effort to secede from the greatest country on earth.

Keep the Six Degrees game in mind in the closing days of this campaign. You'll be surprised how much of it comes down to pointing out with merciless clarity the other guy's controversial connections, while fuzzing and forgetting our own.

Chris Tucker is a Dallas writer and literary consultant.

If you have opinions or rebuttals about this commentary, call (214) 740-9338 or email us.