Sunday, August 3, 2008

Obama, McCain and playing the race card

I have to admit to being confused while listening to C-SPAN recently. Practically all the callers, some of whom were “professing” to be Republicans, were nonplused about McCain playing the race card with the Brittany/Paris ad. I tried to understand how this could be since it was Barack Obama who made a statement that had overt references to race on July 30, and I quote, “They’re gonna try to say that I’m a risky guy. They’re gonna try and say, well you know, he’s got a funny name and he doesn’t look like all the presidents on the dollar bill and 5 dollar bills…”. There have been protestations by those in the press such as Andrea Mitchell, who said that no one in attendance at this event thought he was talking about race (apparently Andrea can read minds). But the NY Times thinks this statement was in response to McCain’s racial attack, so by that measure it must have been racial if it is in to respond to a racial attack.

This wasn’t the first time Obama alluded to race. In fact, on June 20 in Jacksonville, he did more than just allude to race, he said, “They're going to try to make you afraid of me. He's young and inexperienced and he's got a funny name. And did I mention he's black?” It doesn’t take a mental giant to juxtapose those two statements and come to the logical conclusion that they are saying the same thing. Like the July 30 statement, this was in the future tense. He was warning of future attacks by the McCain campaign.

So what exactly did the McCain ad say that triggered the July 30 version? Have you seen the Britney Spears/Paris Hilton “celebrity” campaign spot? I couldn’t find a clean clip but this piece includes the essence it.

This ineffectual, somewhat vapid attempt to portray Obama as vapid, has been described by the New York Times as an attempt to play “the race card”. Instead of trying to explain this I’ll just post the operative paragraph from the July 31 NY Times editorial which explains the connection.
“The ad gave us an uneasy feeling that the McCain campaign was starting up the same sort of racially tinged attack on Mr. Obama that Republican operatives ran against Harold Ford, a black candidate for Senate in Tennessee in 2006. That assault, too, began with videos juxtaposing Mr. Ford with young, white women.”

And this ladies and gentlemen is the subliminal message behind the “Brittany/Paris” campaign ad; Obama with white women. So, by logical extension this classic race batting technique from the Jim Crow era means Brittany and Paris are the representatives of virtuous young white women? At minimum this reveals the absurdity of the New York Times or the stupidity of the McCain campaign.

On August 2 Mr. Obama held a news conference. He admitted that his earlier comments had a racial component. But insisted he wasn’t playing the race card but rather was just trying to explain that the Republican ad, while not racial, was designed to create FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) about him. He said that his biography is atypical and that Republicans are going to exploit his youth and inexperience and somewhat unusual life path because they don’t have a plan for the future and instead want to make him the issue.

Well Mr. Obama needs to get used to being the issue, because this election is a referendum on him. In an undeniable Democratic year, that his lead versus McCain is effectively within the margin of error on national polls, speaks volumes to the unease the American people feel. He should be ahead by 10 points. The ill ease isn’t about race. It’s about ideology. This country has been center-right politically for a very long time. His election means a significant move to the left and a significant number of independents and moderates are concerned about where an Obama presidency will take America.

“Politics ain’t beanbag”, Tip O’Neal is often quoted to have said. But it seems that Obama wants to coat himself with racial Teflon. Obama is going to try and spin any criticism of him that is not issue related, to race. He will try to use race to deflect any and ALL criticisms by making the Republicans defensive about appearing racist. Remember what happened to the Clintons in the primaries. If it can successful against Democrats, it should be a cake-walk against Republicans.

Here’s an example. There was some criticism of Obama being arrogant especially after the speech in Germany. A caller to C-SPAN tried to spin the use of arrogance (when coming from a Republican) as code for “uppity”. In fact, on ABC’s “This Week”, David Gergen made that very argument. As a southerner, he said the real message was very clear to him. Well, it went over the head of this Southerner. If that analogy sticks then arrogance will soon fall from the political lexicon this season. But I don’t think the Republicans will take this lying down. Senator Lindsey Graham made a vociferous defense of this and said they will not allow to be done to them what was done to the Clintons. We’ll see.

This racial Teflon tactic could backfire for Obama. He has been trying to portray himself as post-racial. There ain’t nothin’ post-racial about any of this. If he keeps this up he will further alienate those blue-collar Democrats and independents that he will need to win this election. And if he loses, it will all be because he made race an issue.