The race issue has been well and truly joined, and John McCain didn’t do it. Barack Obama, who has flirted with it, left it to his surrogates in Congress and his cheerleaders in the mainstream media to stir the ugliest pot in politics, and the easiest to bring to boil.
You don’t raise the race issue in the way that Theodore Bilbo, John Elliott Rankin, Cotton Ed Smith, Gene Talmadge and the early George Wallace did it. (Note to the kids under 40 who get their news and history from rock-music lyrics: You can look it up.) Almost nobody, North or South, would encourage or tolerate old-style race-baiting in this more enlightened day.
What you do if you’re the model of a modern Democrat is find a good, liberal-to-left black candidate - someone “clean and articulate,” as Joe Biden famously put it - and dare anyone to criticize him for anything he has ever said or done or intends to do. Critics learn to their sorrow that there is no criticism of the man that can be held legitimate. This will eventually debase the word to make it all but meaningless, but modern Democrats, who have been trying to elect someone like George McGovern, Michael Dukakis or John Kerry for a full generation, figure that a little poison probably won’t be fatal, and it might be just good enough to fuel a winning campaign.
Barack Obama, as Joe Biden says, speaks well - better, in fact, than anyone else running this year (though there are dozens of preachers, black and white, and neither pretender nor claimant to messiah-hood, who could send him in shame to the mourner’s bench). But he exercises the judgment in picking his friends and mentors that could be catastrophic in a president.
Nevertheless, if you point out that his real estate adviser in Chicago is on his way to prison for fraud, well, the fact that Tony Rezko is white doesn’t excuse you from the indictment because criticism of Mr. Obama’s ties to Tony Rezko is some sort of code for “black.”
You’re both a religious and a racial bigot if you wonder why he dispatched his liaison man to liaise with a group of Muslims that included friends of the Hamas terrorists. Speaking of terrorists brings us to William Ayers, the unrepentant ‘60s bomb-thrower. Bill Ayers, another white guy, is somebody that Barack Obama more than “palled around” with; it was Mr. Ayers who got Barack Obama on the board of a foundation that dispensed millions of dollars to liberal and left-wing causes in Chicago. But you’re a racist if you notice that he was more than “just a guy in the Obama neighborhood,” and seek answers to questions about it.
Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, who knows better, even suggests that John McCain is linked through a third degree of separation to the Ku Klux Klansmen who killed four little black Sunday-school girls in Birmingham in 1963. This suggestion was so vile and over the top that the Obama campaign (mildly) scolded Mr. Lewis for it. But the damage, whatever it was, was already done. That’s how dirty tricks work. Plot, execute, apologize.
Nobody stirs the race issue like a doyen/doyenne of the media.
Maureen Dowd, the dowager pon-pon girl in the newsroom at the New York Times, likens the crowds at McCain rallies to the last days of ancient Rome, and even writes half her column in passable schoolgirl Latin. Frank Rich, buff in his fashionably soiled cheerleader’s white bucks, suggests that someone from a McCain rally might even assassinate the messiah, and throws in a vague reference to Nazis at McCain rallies. What makes criticism of Barack Obama different from criticism of John McCain, he writes, “and what has pumped up the Weimar-like rage at McCain-Palin rallies, is the violent escalation of rhetoric … [that] Obama ‘launched his political career in the living room of a domestic terrorist,’ and ‘he is palling around with terrorists,’ [that] Obama ‘is not a man who sees America the way you and I see America.’ ” These Obama cheerleaders at the New York Times are typical of the mainstream media mob; they’re in a rage because saying inconvenient things about their messiah, even if true, must not be tolerated.
“When the messiah speaks,” Louis Farrakhan told a rally in Chicago the other day, “the youth will hear, and the messiah is absolutely speaking.” Marching orders for the media mob.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.