Back when this campaign started in the beginning of 2007, I had a low opinion of many things about Barack Obama – his experience, his policy positions, his voting record, his knowledge of national security matters. But naive liberals aren’t necessarily bad people, and sometimes they do have something useful to contribute to public debate. The one thing Obama’s 2004 convention speech and occasional public statements in 2005-06 seemed to promise, and that lots of people who are not liberals (me included) found attractive, was that Obama was a candidate who would not engage in the old Jesse Jackson/Al Sharpton-style race-baiting politics, a guy who happened to be black but who wanted to deal with the public on a non-racial basis. Obama was not, after all, a Congressman from a gerrymandered monochrome district; he was a United States Senator, and seemed (this was before we learned about Rev. Wright, among other things) to genuinely want a post-racial politics.
That illusion has been stripped down piece by piece in the year and a half since then. Obama turned African-American Democrats, who had supported the Clintons loyally for years, against Hillary Clinton by 80-90% margins almost entirely on racial lines, without which he could not have won his party’s nomination, pursuing a Southern strategy of overwhelming Clinton in the mostly Southern states where the African-American population is a large enough part of the primary electorate that you can win if you can polarize black voters against your opponent. He and his supporters endlessly touted the “historic” nature of his candidacy, and made increasingly frequent references to his race as a reason for voting for him. And now, as Erick has detailed, he has crossed the final line since winning the nomination, not only positively touting his race but repeatedly suggesting – including at three separate stops yesterday in Missouri – that the McCain campaign was being racist for suggesting that there was any risk or danger in voting for Obama to be Commander-in-Chief in wartime and chief executive during perilous times for the economy. This one’s perhaps the most damning example of a direct accusation of racism:
So what they’re saying is, ‘Well, we know we’re not very good but you can’t risk electing Obama. You know, he’s new, he doesn’t look like the other presidents on the currency. He’s got a funny name.’ I mean, that’s basically the argument — he’s too risky.”
In other words, it’s not just that Obama is claiming that he is the victim of some unspecified sort of racist attacks (the closest he comes to specificity is to suggest that the McCain ad comparing him to Paris Hilton for his vacuous celebrity status is racist because … um, because Paris Hilton is black? You tell me.) It’s that he’s claiming that the entirety of McCain’s critique of the dangers of electing Obama is racist.
McCain campaign manager Rick Davis called Obama out directly on this:
“Barack Obama has played the race card, and he played it from the bottom of the deck. It’s divisive, negative, shameful and wrong.”
Obama’s remarks are appalling, they’re wholly unbecoming of a presidential candidate, and they are frankly poisonous for race relations in this country, and the McCain campaign’s vigorous response to this is entirely justified.First of all, there’s no basis whatsoever for claiming that the McCain camp has been arguing that Obama being black makes him unfit for the job; Ed Morrissey and Jake Tapper illustrate the totally baseless nature ofthat charge. If anything, the absence of Rev. Wright from the airwaves is a symptom of how far McCain has bent over backwards to avoid racially charged campaigning. But he may be coming around to the realization that Obama has taken the gloves off for good at this point. McCain’s a tough guy and a fighter, and being called a racist simply for having the temerity to be in Obama’s way appears to have reminded him once again of a timeless lesson of politics:
Second, Glenn Reynolds has summarized concisely why Obama’s casual deployment of this particular calumny – racism being basically the worst thing you can accuse an American of – is itself a reason to recoil from him:
[P]erhaps the best reason to vote against Obama is to spare thecountry an administration that reflexively characterizes any criticism asracist.
Consider the daily controversies that have swirled about President Bush and President Clinton these past 8 years – or, if you are older, most of their predecessors – and imagine each one of them being turned into the OJ trial by the Administration. I can’t really imagine a better recipe for dividing people. Obama is trying to use race to delegitimize any criticism of him. But presidents and presidential candidates get bombarded with criticism, fair and unfair, pretty much continuously. If everyone who criticizes the president, or at least everyone who does so effectively, is to be branded a racist, well, it’s going to be a very ugly time in this nation indeed.
Third, this response by Obama is not just revealing of his willingness to play the most brutal sort of racial politics. It’s also a symptom of his ever-increasing hubris and his resultingly thin skin. The man, an obscure state legislator five years ago and unaccustomed to the mantle of national leadership, has so surrounded himself with fawning acolytes and cheering crowds at home and abroad that it has clearly gone to his head, making him progressively more full of himself as the campaign has worn on, to the point of declaring himself “a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions” at “the moment … that the world is waiting for”. As I have explained previously, Obama is uniquely lacking, by historic standards, in any of the kinds of experience we generally demand from presidential candidates. As I noted the other day, the disparity between his claims of being a great figure of history and his extremely modest accomplishments itself relies on the assumption that voters will grade him more leniently than the usual candidate because of his race. But rather than accept that a man of humble accomplishments and qualifications can fairly be criticized for such and must prove his merit, rather than accept that a man submitting himself for election must suffer the slings and arrows of the democratic process – a process that is, after all, designed in part to remind the head of state who he works for – Obama is willing to casually slander anyone who comments on the absence of the emperor’s trousers. His regard for himself has now reached the point where maybe he can’t even imagine any basis but racism for criticizing his thin qualifications and accomplishments, his disastrous national security ideas and economic proposals, or his left-wing extremism on social issues.
It’s always the same with Obama: it can’t be him; it must be us.