Friends of mine can't understand my cynicism about Barack Obama's quest to become the first African American president. They're sniffing the air like it smells of jubilee, while I'm moping around like Eeyore, the perpetually pessimistic donkey.

In my 55 years, I've gone from being the fresh-faced youth from the South, who grew up being taught that no racial barrier was unassailable, to becoming the wizened old man working up North, who has learned that prejudice too often gets the last word.

So, I'm not caught up in the Obama excitement. Instead of celebrating his winning enough delegates to secure the Democratic nomination, I've been looking at the obstacles to his becoming president - the biggest one being presumptive Republican nominee John McCain.

There are plenty of Democrats who can find something to like about McCain if they search hard enough. He's a fiscally responsible, frequently anti-lobbyist war hero who offered the most comforting words to women Tuesday night when it became clear that Hillary Clinton had lost the Democratic nomination to Obama.

"As the father of three daughters, I owe her a debt for inspiring millions of women to believe there is no opportunity in this great country beyond their reach. I am proud to call her my friend," said McCain. Sure, the comment reeked of political opportunism. But it showed that McCain knows which strings to pull to get irked Democrats to swap allegiance.

And it's not just white women who are vulnerable to McCain's seduction. Working-class white folk - part of Clinton's core constituency - are also open to a new suitor. We called this the "Bubba vote" when I worked in Alabama.

In fact, I once won an award for an editorial I wrote titled "Bubba has a brain." As I recall, its conclusion was that such voters don't vote reflexively. But with Obama, I'm not so sure.

He got trounced in West Virginia, where exit polls supported the conclusion of one woman interviewed, who said she would have a hard time voting for a black person, because they have given white people "trouble."

I visited West Virginia recently and didn't encounter any bias in Morgantown, home of the university and likely a more enlightened community. But I also noticed there weren't many people of my persuasion for the local populace to practice their prejudice on, if they had any. A black presidential candidate gives anyone with such a hankering a chance to scratch that itch in the privacy of the voting booth.

But, as they say, with adversity comes opportunity. And there's an opportunity for Obama beyond the personal achievement that truly is within his long arms' reach. If he can win the White House with significant votes from states where a lot of white people think of black people as "trouble," it may finally put the Republican Party's vaunted Southern strategy in a casket.

For more than 40 years, the GOP has exploited racial fears, primarily in Dixie, to secure presidential victories. Republican candidates have used the specter of welfare mothers and recidivist convicts like Willie Horton to spark fear in the hearts of voters who are vulnerable to racial manipulation. They seek shelter in voting for the candidate less likely to bring them more "trouble."

It's hard to tell whether McCain will resort to the tried-and-true Southern strategy to secure states when the going against Obama begins to get tough. McCain showed his willingness to resort to any means necessary in tacking right to get the GOP nomination. The result is that he now is trying to prove that his would not be a continuation of the Bush administration.

Even if McCain adheres to the high road on race, his party may "independently" try to push buttons it has pushed in the past to secure white votes.

A memorandum from the Republican National Committee sent out Tuesday hinted at what is to come, saying, "Obama's primary election coalition of urban voters, young voters, ideologically liberal voters, and elites is far too narrow to sustain him amid a center-right general election electorate." To some, urban is a synonym for black.

A statement Wednesday from the RNC said: "On the day Barack Obama hoped to unite his party after wheezing over the finish line and claiming the Democrat nomination, a jury in his hometown of Chicago convicted his longtime friend and fund-raiser Tony Rezko of multiple felonies." The unstated message is: Here's another black man who's going to be "trouble."

Oh, and by the way, the RNC also claims it has a 9:1 cash-on-hand advantage over the Democratic National Committee. Game on.

It's going to take every one of those excited new voters who registered to vote for Obama and Clinton to take him to the promised land. That's right, all those disenchanted Hillary supporters are going to have to acknowledge the alternative if they don't come around. Right now, a lot of them don't want to hear that.

So, I'm not celebrating a President Obama just yet. With the Democratic nomination, he's set a new milestone of achievement for African Americans. I'm proud of him. But the way to the prize remains treacherous.

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editor Harold Jackson
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