Now that John McCain is clearly losing the race for the presidency, he is turning to the classic Republican playbook since Nixon. Reagan Democrats were essentially working class whites bitter about the gains of African Americans and their perceived drag on the larger culture. Reagan's welfare queens comments, Bush 1's Willie Horton ad, Jesse Helm's black hand ad and the Bob Corker playboy mansion ad are all examples of the Southern Strategy.
Although the phrase "Southern strategy" is often attributed to Richard Nixon strategist Kevin Phillips, he did not originate it, but merely popularized it. In an interview included in a 1970 New York Times article, he touched on its essence:
"From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don't need any more than that... but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That's where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats." (Wikipedia)
Americans that see through this and are rightly shocked by race-baiting are often at a loss to understand how people can fall for it. But this is a classic imperialist Divide and Conquer technique applied to politics: In politics and sociology, divide and rule (derived from Latin divide et impera) (also known as divide and conquer) is a combination of political, military and economic strategy of gaining and maintaining power by breaking up larger concentrations of power into chunks that individually have less power than the one implementing the strategy. In reality, it often refers to a strategy where small power groups are prevented from linking up and becoming more powerful, since it is difficult to break up existing power structures.(Wikipedia)
It's a little more complicated than just saying people are racist or ignorant. There is a latent white supremacism in our culture. One than McCain was trying to prod with his Country First campaign and talk of American exceptionalism. People weren't getting it though so now they are more overtly calling on their white brethren to reject this man "palling around with terrorists" who doesn't think like us. It's a thinly veiled coordinated campaign along with talk radio and right-wing TV hosts to paint Obama as a friend of terrorists. The implication is that he is an Al Qaeda sleeper cell.
A subtler form of this tactic would be easier to work in an "all things being equal" election. But it's not, so they have to push the hate hard. The fact that Obama is leading in the polls in states like Virginia, Pennsylvania and tied in Indiana and North Carolina proves that this strategy has to a certain degree been played out over the years. But we need to be clear about what is happening and don't underestimate the impact.