As Democrats in Indiana and North Carolina head to the polls on Tuesday, more than a few of them will be shaking their heads in disbelief. Over the past week, they have seen the Obama campaign struggle to limit the damage from the ongoing controversy surrounding the senator's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Wright's recent remarks on the black church, the consequences of U.S. foreign policy and institutional racism in America have put pundits, pollsters and politicians into hysterics.

The cable news networks led the pack, but most mainstream outlets and significant portions of the blogosphere soon followed. Now they are all working overtime trying to outdo each other's sense of righteous indignation and moral panic.

Amid all the frenzied activity on and off the campaign trail this weekend, this much is clear: Wright's provocative statements have demonstrated that race is most certainly an issue in this year's historic presidential campaign. What is less certain is how outrageous Wright's views really are.

For instance, Wright's assertion that the government is somehow implicated in AIDS epidemic has been roundly criticized as so much conspiracy theory. And yet, such conspiratorial thinking has long been part of the fabric of American political discourse -- think of the endless speculation surrounding the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations, lingering doubts over the official story on 911, not to mention the otherwise level-headed Mrs. Clinton's assertion that "a vast right-wing conspiracy" was behind her philandering husband's impeachment.

More to the point, Obama's presidential bid is in jeopardy, not for any "outrageous," "inflammatory" or "divisive" statements he has made, but rather, because his former pastor dared to share his deepest suspicions, frustrations and anxieties about the state of the African-American community.

Obama has since repudiated Wright's statements and made it clear that he does not share the preacher's views. But no matter how much distance he tries to put between himself and Rev. Wright, Obama will be dealing with the fallout from his former pastor's beliefs until November.

And yet, in the parallel universe occupied by the mainstream media, Sen. John McCain gets a pass from the press corps when it comes to the inflammatory statements and end-times prophecy espoused by pastor John Hagee, the controversial televangelist who has endorsed the Arizona senator for president.


If all of this isn't enough to test our collective credulity, McCain's own superstitious beliefs and weird habits don't seem to faze mainstream journalists or the chattering classes of cable news and talk radio. In fact, reporters seem downright charmed by McCain's penchant for talismans.

For instance, a positively giddy report in a recent edition of the Washington Times notes, "Mr. McCain has dozens of superstitions and rituals. ... He carries a lucky feather, a lucky compass and a lucky penny -- not to mention a lucky nickel and a lucky quarter."

Apparently, lucky charms are nothing new at McCain campaign headquarters. A Washington Post story on the 2000 Republican primary relates the following anecdote: "When McCain once misplaced his feather, there was momentary panic in the campaign, until his wife found it in one of his suits. When the compass went missing once, McCain assigned his political director to hunt it down."

As luck would have it, McCain's superstitious nature hasn't threatened his presidential bid the way Obama's pastor's views and beliefs have undermined the Illinois senator's candidacy. Perhaps the next time McCain sits down for a cozy chat with NBC's Tim Russert, the longtime beltway insider will grill McCain on his irrational belief system with the same tenacity he questioned Dennis Kucinich on the existence of UFOs during a Democratic debate. Knock wood.

The thing is that all of us do what we can to make sense of things as we travel along this cockeyed caravan called life. We're all looking for something, anything, to believe in.

So it should come as no surprise that some white, working class voters believe that Hillary Clinton -- an enthusiastic supporter of NAFTA, the disastrous trade policy that has decimated working-class communities in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Indiana -- is a friend to working men and women.

Meanwhile, others believe that Hillary's bellicose attitude toward Iran will divert even more resources away from domestic concerns, in effect creating a permanent war economy and leaving it to working-class families to bear the brunt of fighting America's wars.

Fortunately, come Tuesday it won't be TV talking heads, campaign strategists or outspoken preachers that will help determine who the Democratic nominee will be. That's up to all the rational, superstitious and religious voters in Indiana and North Carolina. Believe it or not!

Kevin Howley is Associate Professor of Media Studies at DePauw University. He can be reached at .