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Anti-Obama slogans with racist slants on the rise in Election 2012

The 2008 election was not devoid of racist anti-Obama sentiment, but racial slurs and offensive slogans seem to be balder this time – from a racially derogatory joke circulated by a US judge to crude bumper stickers.

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Most Americans do not want to go back to the Jim Crow past, when it was common to use animal metaphors to degrade African-Americans, says Professor Naison. Earlier this month, the chief US judge for the District of Montana, Richard Cebull, apologized to "anyone who was offended" after he forwarded on his office e-mail system a derogatory joke about Mr. Obama. “A little boy said to his mother; ‘Mommy, how come I’m black and you’re white?’ ” the joke in the e-mail said. “His mother replied, ‘Don’t even go there Barack! From what I can remember about that party, you’re lucky you don’t bark!' "

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There is no better way to drive independent voters or disillusioned liberals into the Obama camp than to use racist appeals, "many of them crude and atavistic," to attack the president, says Naison.

Many conservatives, however, argue that Democrats cry racism to avoid discussing topics about which there are legitimate differences of opinion. “With all due respect, I find it offensive when people refer to Americans' dislike of Obama as race-based,” says Klea Theoharis, a New York-based  financial adviser who blogs about government waste on her website, taxdollarwastewatch.wordress.com. She supported GOP candidate Herman Cain. “It insults our intelligence. For those interested enough to care about the issues and America's future, it has nothing to do with race, but policy,” she adds.  

Nonetheless, others suggest that GOP presidential candidates are intentionally stoking racial fears even as they make a policy point. At an Iowa event prior to the caucuses, Rick Santorum contrasted himself with Obama this way, telling a mostly white audience that "I would not make black people's lives better by giving them other people's money." Newt Gingrich told a Plymouth, N.H., audience that he would attend the NAACP convention and explain "why the African-American community should demand paychecks instead of food stamps."

The former House speaker also has suggested that children from housing projects should be hired to clean bathrooms in public schools to learn there are jobs besides pimping and drug dealing.

But what to some listeners is a tough-minded proposal to teach a work ethic is to others an example of coded racism that plays to old stereotypes. 

This sort of racial rhetoric allows politicians “to tap white anxieties that blacks are un-deserving of any government assistance because they would rather collect benefits than work,” says Charles Gallagher, chairman of the sociology department at La Salle University in Philadelphia, in an e-mail. "This new variation on The Southern Strategy works as a way to tap deeply ingrained stereotypes that whites have about blacks; simply put, that whites have a work ethic and blacks do not.”

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