The key word for those who hate and fear the possibility of an Obama presidency is “Afro-centric.” I don’t know where they picked it up — maybe they heard it on the Fox network or read it on one of the Web pages about the ineffable Rev. Jeremiah Wright. But it means the destruction of “our America” as we know it. We don’t know enough about the candidate, we don’t know where the man comes from or what he wants. In fact, he may be the anti-Christ, or he may be an Arab or some kind of Muslim. He’s not one of us. He’s not pro-American. Someone ought to investigate him and tell the country the whole truth. He has friends who are terrorists. He should come clean and tell us why he wants to be president, why he wants to take away our American freedoms. We have to protect our children from the Afro-centric nation that he will create. And where did he get all that money he’s using to register ex-convicts to vote in the election? We have to stop him before it’s too late.

There is no point in trying to argue with these folks. They know the truth about the Democratic candidate, and if you can’t see the truth about the conspiracy, then you must be part of it.

The surveys show that most Americans don’t accept this theory of a conspiracy to steal the election and, at this writing, the majority are inclined to vote for Sen. Barack Obama. It would appear that at best, as careful data analysis seems to suggest, the “Bradley effect” — whites lying to interviewers about their voting intentions as they did in the defeat of Mayor Tom Bradley in Los Angeles some years ago — affects only a minority of white voters.

Yet the hatred is out there, as the New York Times discovered when it sent a reporter across the country to study the matter, and as many young people discovered while canvassing in places like Indiana and Ohio.

Perhaps they are not typical, perhaps they are too small a minority to make any difference. . . .

Perhaps.

However, the climate of the country, made toxic (a must-use word these days) by the spin doctors and the experts and the troublemakers seeking public office, is dangerous. A black man should not, cannot become president of the United States.

If Sen. John McCain wins, the young people and the minorities will be furious, especially if it appears that the GOP has for the third straight time stolen an election by disenfranchising voters it doesn’t like. And if Sen. Obama wins, the worried, the frightened, the true believers, the haters will not go away. The winner in either case will find it difficult to govern.

I have been reading a book about the interregnum between the election of President Abraham Lincoln and his inauguration four months later. The secession crisis could not wait that long for a solution.

The man elected this November will have to wait only half that time. Will the present worldwide economic crisis wait that long, and will the anger, the fury, the hatred stirred up by this long campaign, especially if the outcome is close, be an obstacle to economic recovery?

One wonders how a campaign that both parties promised would bring the country together has come so far as to risk tearing it apart. It is hardly likely that historians who will study this lunatic campaign will have a hard time deciding which party is to blame.

Nor will they likely look to Afro-centrism as an explanation.