It takes time and experience to decipher the Republican racism code. Some Republicans never figure it out, and it took me years of elections to spot them.
The Internet, with its "vast variety" of sources to draw from, has been helpful in the decoding process. Bloggers and online forums have allowed me to see more opinions, views and experiences from Main Street to Martin Luther King Boulevard.
When we're all expressing ourselves from our PCs and cloaked in anonyminity, we tend to be more honest than we would in face to face conversations.
In 1980, I cast my second presidential vote for Ronald Reagan. A young Republican, I was still smarting because Jimmy Carter had beaten my choice, Gerald Ford, in my first election. While I was one of the millions who was dragged down by the late 1970s economy, I had few assets but my paychecks didn't go far.
I missed the significance of Reagan launching his 1980 campaign from Philadelphia, Mississippi and getting rousing cheers each time he said "States' rights". His delivery was smooth and charming and the crowd was eating it up!
Movies, when historically accurate also are excellent educational sources. The 1988 film Mississippi Burning was about the 1960s murder of three civil rights workers by white supremacists in -- you guessed it -- Philadelphia, Mississippi.
Onice I made the connection, I was mortified. Why had the president I'd twice voted for and admired chosen that hideous venue as a campaign kick-off spot? Why not a tree with a rope hanging from it in the background?
Was Ronald Reagan a Racist? Does George W. Bush Hate Black People?
It's a reach for me to believe that Ronald Reagan was racist, and more plausible to think that Lee Atwater, a Southerner, told him "This is where you need to go, and say 'states rights' a whole lot" and he cluelessly complied.
I don't want to dent Kanye West's marketability by admitting that I, a middle-aged WASP, enjoy his fresh and unique sound but I am a shirttail fan. While I understood his emotion when he stated "George Bush hates black people" at an awards ceremony after Hurricane Katrina, I saw things a little differently: "No, Kanye, I don't think he hates black people, he just doesn't give a damn anyone who isn't a millionaire. You're a wealthy music mogul now, he'd like YOU!"
A couple of times a week when I shop at Wal-Mart, I see many black families. Some appear to be middle class like me, others appear to be struggling.
Exterior wrappings and cart content aside, our common bond is clear: We are searching for bargains at Wal-Mart. We are not entertaining Prince Bandar at our spacious Texas ranch or at a rustic luxury lodge going on a caged hunt with Dick Cheney. We are not Bush's people, the 1.5 percent.
'Hey Harold -Call me!'
Lee Atwater's famous Willie Horton ad in 1988 may or may not have helped Poppy Bush win a four-year term. I can't objectively say because I had no intention of voting for Michael Dukakis anyway.
But had I lived in Tennessee in 2006, I might very well have voted for Harold Ford for Senate. Like Barack Obama, Ford is Democrat, black, attractive, intelligent, well-mannered, has a good head and a heart to match. Lots of white voters in The Volunteer State agreed with me, according to forums I was reading at the time.
Then surrogates for Ford's opponent, Bob Corker, bought a television ad showing Ford, then a bachelor, as a man about town who didn't relate to the typical Tennessee resident. A pretty blonde at a Playboy party winks suggestively into the camera purring "Call me, Harold!"
A Yankee by birth, I missed the hidden message that my mother, a Southerner, spotted instantly: white woman flirting with black man = not a good thing south of the Mason-Dixon line.
Naturally, Corker decried the implied message and asked surrogates to cease the spot. After all, the damage had already been done and why pay for television time the media was giving you for free? Corker won the race.
Barack Obama's Nomination Shows Progress
Most people my age expected to see an African American male in the White House in our lifetimes. And most of us thought it would probably be Colin Powell. George Bush helped put Powell in a position with the Iraq War that ensured this would never happen.
Barack Obama appeared somewhat suddenly and unexpectedly, but we DO "know" him. Anyone who still doesn't after a 20-month campaign just hasn't been listening, or doesn't want to listen. Questions about his birth certificate, his church, his very loose connection with Bill Ayers and his efforts to quit smoking and his wife's "anger" have been answered thousands of times.
If we had not made progress in race relations, Obama would never have won the nomination, and toppled the country's most powerful Democratic couple in the process. I don't think people who respond to McCain's platform and message more than Obama's are racist.
The Bradley Effect? I don't see it. People who plan to vote for McCain and who don't like Obama are more than happy to come right out and say it to me when we talk about the presidential race. We disagree without being disagreeable, as Obama says.
But there are telltale signs of potential racism.
When I ask them "Why are you voting for McCain?" a few of them respond "Obama is arrogant (uppity) and inexperienced."
The absence of a substantial reason for supporting McCain combined with absence of a reason besides "He looks snotty" for not voting for Obama is a "code word" into parts of themselves that they can't see, but that I have learned to recognize.