The polls don't appear to make sense.
According to one that's recent and reliable — by the Pew Research Center — most Americans believe the rich pay too little in taxes and would harvest a windfall from Republican policies and a Mitt Romney presidency.
These aren't close calls. Nearly six in 10 say the rich get off too lightly and more than seven in 10 think Romney's election would benefit the wealthy. Other polls reflect that Americans think President Barack Obama is much more sympathetic to the average Joe than Romney is.
Even so, there are also recent, reliable polls reflecting that the campaign is a dead heat. Roughly half the voters presently favor the candidate who would further reduce taxes on the rich in ways that would likely raise them on everyone else.
In other words, plenty of people who dislike Romney's policies are willing to vote for him.
What explains this apparent paradox?
A partial answer is the familiar fact that many voters hold hard times against whoever happens to be president. It doesn't matter how much conditions may have improved on his watch or how much worse they might have been on someone else's. They can't take it out on those primarily responsible — in this case the too-big-to-fail, too-big-to-be-prosecuted financial rackets whose greed tanked the economy. So the president is the fall guy, no matter to which party he belongs.
That's just part of it.
Another reason is the opposition's relentless campaign to demonize not only Obama's record but his personhood and even his Americanism. The birth certificate nonsense is an example of that. So is the widespread belief among senior citizens that Obamacare is a threat to Medicare rather than an element essential to its survival. Paul Ryan's budget contemplated the same $716 billion in reduced payments to hospitals and insurance companies, but you won't hear that from the Obama haters.
OK, that's politics, to which hypocrisy is like mother's milk.
But there's something even more sinister in play than politics as usual.
That something is race.
Obama's historic victory four years ago, defying the belief that a black man could never be president, begged the question of how many votes his race cost him. One serious study, cited in September's The Atlantic, put that at between 3 and 5 percent of the popular vote.
Ever since, the signs of racism have been frequent and unmistakable. The lily-white composition of the Tea Party is one of them. Its icons Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck openly accused Obama himself of racism, although Beck recanted. Accusing someone of being what you are is one of the fundamental tricks of propaganda.
The Republican ads falsely accusing Obama of waiving welfare's work requirement are unsubtle appeals to the residual racism that some racists won't admit even to themselves.
Another study cited in The Atlantic found racism to be a factor in opposition to the president's health care reform among people who had favored Bill Clinton's unsuccessful effort.
Had the president been born to an American mother and a white South African, would anyone doubt his Hawaiian birth certificate? Would more than half of all Republicans disbelieve his American legitimacy? Why was George Romney's eligibility for the presidency largely taken for granted even though he was born (to American parents) in Mexico? If Obama weren't black, would West Virginia Democrats have given 41 percent of their presidential primary votes this year to someone who is an incarcerated white felon?
The Atlantic article, by Ta-Nehisa Coates, a senior editor of the magazine, asserts that "in his first two years as president, Obama talked less about race than any other Democratic president since 1961." His reticence was in vain. When he did speak out even in a mild way, as on the Trayvon Martin shooting, the Obama haters went into a frenzy, and support for the defendant increased dramatically.
Coates defines the Obama era as "a time marked by a revolution that must never announce itself, by a democracy that must never acknowledge the weight of race, even while being shaped by it. Barack Obama governs a nation enlightened enough to send an African-American to the White House, but not enlightened enough to accept a black man as its president."
That's a paradox, surely enough. If Obama loses, history will not ascribe Romney's victory to his policies and certainly not to his personality. It will record simply that the white man won and the black man lost.