- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2008



Kudos to John McCain. He stood up and refused to accept being labeled a racist lying down. After his third attempt to inject race into the race, Barack Obama was stopped dead in his tracks when he made these remarks last week:

“Nobody really thinks that Bush or McCain have a real answer for the challenges we face … so what they’re going to try to do is make you scared of me. You know, he’s not patriotic enough. He’s got a funny name. You know, he doesn’t look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills, you know.” The McCain campaign quickly shot back: “Barack Obama has played the race card, and he played it from the bottom of the deck. It’s divisive, negative, shameful and wrong,” McCain campaign manager Rick Davis said. The Illinois senator’s supporters insist he was simply reacting to a McCain ad that spoofed Mr. Obama’s celebrity status. But Mr. Obama’s “initial” response to Mr. McCain’s “celebrity” ad was quite admirable as he scoffed (expressing no offense whatsoever) and blew it off as another sorry attempt at humor, then challenged Mr. McCain to focus on the issues.

The humor quickly faded when Mr. Obama’s pride took over and he decided to take his cues from angry liberal bloggers who called the McCain ad racist. Not only was the accusation ridiculous, but it was then repeated over and over again on the airwaves by the liberal status quo, only to be reversed by Mr. Obama himself: “In no way do I think John McCain’s campaign was racist.” Mr. Obama had backed himself into a corner.

The no-color candidate who didn’t want to make race an issue became the center of it. Mr. Obama wrongly assumed that he’d get away with painting Mr. McCain a racist, since Democrats have successfully been able to tag Republicans with that moniker (unchallenged) for years. Ironically, it’s the same kind of subtlety Mr. Obama claims exists within many of these Republican ads. The “race card” is similar to the “sex card” played by the Hillary Clinton camp when she lost the nomination to Mr. Obama. Sexism seemed easier to accept rather than acknowledging, she just wasn’t that well- liked. Mr. Obama may do well to acknowledge he may not be that experienced.

From the beginning of his campaign (perhaps acknowledging in some way what was to come), Mr. McCain denounced any attempts by the campaign or Republicans in general to play the race card. He insisted it would not be tolerated. By all accounts he has gone out of his way to repudiate comments that even appear to come close to the edge, which makes Mr. Obama’s accusation even more incendiary and cynical. As Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Ruth Ann Dailey points out: “It refutes Mr. Obama’s earlier, constant promises to transcend the ‘old stuff [that] just divides us.’ ”

Furthermore, it appears Mr. Obama’s recent tact is hurting him among the very group of voters he’s been trying to court (white middle class, conservative Democrats and “up for grabs” independent voters). This week, Gallup had Mr. McCain closing Mr. Obama’s lead, with the two men in a dead heat at 44 percent. And Rasmussen showed Mr. McCain with a slight lead over Mr. Obama. “Scary” or not, Mr. Obama, undecided independent voters don’t like race-baiting disguised as cynicism.

Is it fair to say that the race card has been played in previous elections? Yes. By both sides? Yes. But this is a new election, with new candidates who are both seeking “reform” and “change” from the same tired, old politics as usual. Crying wolf when none exists (racism) is the same politics as usual. Democrats have got to get a new line.

It is apparent that the Obama facade is beginning to crack as this recent expression of frustration reveals, but it begs the question no journalist seems to be willing to ask: What is on or off the table - racially speaking? Can one call Mr. Obama inexperienced without being called a racist? Can his judgment be questioned outside of his race? Can his flimsy record be recounted without the threat of a hate crime charge?

I am not so naive as to believe that race doesn’t matter to “some” people in this election, but those people are not the majority (which is why Mr. Obama enjoys 80 percent support among Democrats). It is equally fair to point out that a white candidate can attack a black candidate and not be racist.

The fact is some people (mostly cynics) will see race (or racism) in everything and everyone who isn’t black. Anyone who attacks the black candidate will in their eyes be a racist. That is unfortunate, as it is the kind of thinking that keeps us solely focused on the past and unable to move ahead to that “one America” Mr. Obama seems to be leaving behind.

Tara Wall is deputy editorial page editor of The Washington Times. E-mail [email protected]

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