By MARC McDONALD
If you thought the Republicans reached a new low in dirty campaign tricks in the 2004 election, you ain't seen nothing yet.
You can take it to the bank that if Barack Obama gets the Democratic nomination, the GOP will slime him in a manner that makes the Swiftboating of John Kerry seem like a Sunday walk in the park.
And in sliming Obama, the GOP can be counted upon to make maximum use of the biggest wedge issue in the Republicans' arsenal of dirty tricks. It's a wedge issue that Republicans have shamefully used in election after election, ever since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Of course, I'm talking about race: the Mother of All Wedge Issues for the GOP.
For Republicans, it's the gift that keeps on giving, especially when used as a tool to rally the Angry White Males that make up a sizable chunk of the GOP's base.
And if you want to use race issues to rally the troops, then the standard GOP playbook to consult is that of the late Republican political consultant and strategist Lee Atwater.
For younger readers who may not recall him, Atwater was the notorious mastermind of the infamous "Willie Horton" attack ad in the 1988 campaign that helped George H. W. Bush overcome Michael Dukakis's early 17-point lead in the polls.
It's a playbook that the GOP is certain to dust off and use in full force as they gear up to attack Obama in the 2008 campaign. In short, it's going to get increasingly ugly over the next few months.
These days, most Americans believe that we're become an enlightened, color-blind society. But we're about to get a rude shock over how deep divisive racial issues still simmer below the surface of U.S. society.
We've already seen a preview of how the GOP and its allies have shameless used race to rally the troops in recent years.
Just ask the African-American Senate candidate Harold Ford, Jr.
Ford, as you may recall, was targeted in 2006 by the infamous "Bimbo" attack ad that portrayed a skimpily dressed white woman sexily purring to Ford, inviting him to "Call me."
The NAACP attacked the ad as "a powerful innuendo that plays to pre-existing prejudices about African-American men and white women."
It's clear that the Republicans and their allies will summon up the spirit of Atwater and race-baiting politics as they prepare to slime Obama in the months ahead. We're already seeing early evidence of this (such as Rush Limbaugh playing the racist "Barack The Magic Negro" on his program).
And it's just the beginning. The GOP can be counted upon to exploit this issue as much as they shamelessly exploited the tragedy of 9/11 during the 2004 campaign.