Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
July 31, 2008
POLITICS: John McCain Does Not Think That Campaigning Against Barack Obama Makes Him A Racist

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 of
that 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 the country an administration that reflexively characterizes any criticism as racist.

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.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:09 PM | Politics 2008 | Comments (16) | TrackBack (0)

Crank, if you believe for a second that McCain is somehow above playing racial politics (witness his constant wavering on MLK holiday, confederate flag, affirmative action issues) or that his new Rovian campaign team wasnt waiting for the first opportunity to pounce on anything close to "the race card" like Hillary did then youre either dumber than I figured you to be or, worse, an intellectually dishonest conservative. I'm a Republican with libertarian leanings but I'm not naive enough to believe that a large component of Republican electoral success since Nixon hasnt been the Appalachian/Southern strategy with all its ugly racist trappings. Get off the high horse you accuse Obama of riding. In fact it'd be nice if both you and Obama did.

Posted by: robert at July 31, 2008 6:28 PM

Even more appalling was the recent outright lie in the McCain ad about Obama skipping out on the injured veterans because "no cameras would be there". The McCain of 2000 after South Carolina -- the one who told GWB "dont give me that shit and take your hands off me" -- would be appalled at the McCain of 2008.

Posted by: seth soothsayer at July 31, 2008 7:08 PM

I dunno - I hope that McCain is above playing racial politics, I really do, and I hope it will continue. I was impressed with his shooing away of the comments from that right wing radio guy months ago, but the undercurrent is still there (see, 'Black House' button).
I don't think he was above it in the past - it was easy votes, and we're in a different time now. One step towards me being able to vote Republican, 4 to go. Maybe 10, the GOP is quite bad right now.

"he disparity between his claims of being a great figure of history "
If you'll notice, he doesn't say that he is. He says the moment is, and that 'we' are. This is a distinction. Mostly, it's Republicans who say he's not that more than Dems who say he is. Wonderful strategy that.

"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"
This is one of those statements which attributes more to what he said than what was said. Really. If you attribute the "they" to be the McCain campaign, without a doubt.
If you attribute the "they" to be the combined Republican campaigns/rallies/etc in every state, and add in friendly media outlets and half-crazed email and web forums - then not so much, as these things have happened.
When I read it, I see two simple linkages - Bush to McCain, and McCain to the people who seek to diminish. Not direct, as it has been made out to be. But much less "I am outraged!" causing, so easier to ignore.

Posted by: Dave at July 31, 2008 7:22 PM

Pardon me if I dont fall over backwards when Crank opines that Obama would be lousy for race relations in America. The subtext of the "he is arrogant" meme is that "he is uppity". Let's call it what it is. Unlike McCain Obama took his education seriously and didnt take his marriage for granted. He excelled on the merits at Harvard and in everything he's done. Crank just hates him cuz he's not conservative, period. Obama's worked hard all his life and built his own career without marrying into beer money and ditching his disabled wife or trading on his war hero status for votes.

Posted by: dante at July 31, 2008 7:28 PM

...And the clear implication of Crank's "Untouchables" reference is that he believes any future attack on Obama, no matter how fraudulent or even race-baiting, is justified as long as it's effective in getting votes. Since Obama is apparently as bad as Capone to Crank.

Posted by: Thompson at July 31, 2008 7:46 PM

"The subtext of the "he is arrogant" meme is that "he is uppity"."

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Posted by: Cheese at July 31, 2008 8:09 PM

A little study in contrasts...

Barack Obama in Berlin: "Now the world will watch and remember what we do here, what we do with this moment."

Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg: "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here..."

Yeah, Obama isn't arrogant, we're all just secret racists!

Posted by: Cheese at July 31, 2008 8:14 PM

I still think Obama is going to win this election in November, but his campaign is dangerously moving into the direction Kerry went about this time in '04. Divisive and emotional statements made by himself and others supporting him are going to work against him. Obama has nothing to do with that idiot Ludicrus. I read the words to Ludicrus's song and it's divisive, to say the least. This hurts Obama, particularly among white voters who haven't made up their mind. Obama will distance himself from these hateful words, but it won't work with White blue-collar voters. Kind of similar to the outrageous statements by the Hollywood left crowd in '04 when they were supporting Kerry and making absolutely wild and punproven comments about Bush. It backfired when Bush got the independent vote in his upset victory.

Obama should be running away from McCain in the polls, but the more he injects non-specific race claims and his black supporters say "it's our turn" the more he turns independents away. Obama's aides need to coach him more on his comments and put a muzzle on some of his black supporters. If not, they are going to blow it for him.

Posted by: CaptainKirk at July 31, 2008 9:37 PM

Yes, this campaign is taking a turn down a familiar road that is perilous nonetheless. Obama shouldn't have to answer for outright opportunists like Ludacris, but we all know the difference between shouldn't and doesn't. Unfortunately, the electorate is too easily swayed via guilt by association. It's an awfully easy sell through a vast swath of this country, and the 30-year movement in conservative politics has had way more legs than not to have recognized it, and capitalized on it through manipulation of the race card long ago. This is not some groundbreaking example of innovation in underhanded politics. But Obama certainly doesn't need any more dirt flying around with the putrid stench of racism in the air.

McCain has some experts on these matters on his team, and you can bet they are ready for battle. Things are just starting to get interesting, if you have the stomach for it.

Oh, and that "study in contrasts" was nothing but cheese. I love how Repubs so regularly claim Lincoln as their own personal selfless saint, when modern conservative politics so clearly suffers from the Bobby Big Head syndrome. Ever heard of Duke Cunningham or Tom DeLay? Put down that hammer, have a nice dry cracker and step away from the gouda.

Posted by: macsonix at July 31, 2008 11:18 PM

Robert, why does opposing the banning of the Confederate flag and wanting to change affirmative action mean someone is a racist? I'd like to think that in a nation which cherishes freedom of speech, refusing to ban a symbol, even a hateful symbol, would be a concept worth fighting for. And my mom taught me two wrongs don't make a right so I fail to see how denying equal treatment to someone because their ancestors hail from Europe is a solution to prior ills.

Posted by: SFC B at July 31, 2008 11:21 PM

Nice SFC B. If only we had more of you when the Mexican flag was burnished during the immigration marches in 2007. You'll have to take that up with the Limbaughs and Malkins of the political world.

Back on topic: Why is McCain scared that his criticisms of Obama will be construed as racist? He's a Rovian Republican. Like Obama and his pastor, judge McCain by the company he keeps.

Posted by: Berto at August 1, 2008 4:51 AM

God, if this is what we can expect from the campaigns over the next few months, I'd rather have the election now and end this silliness. I'm assuming, at some point, the candidates will actually address the issues?

On Imus this morning, I heard one of the editors state that the McCain ad was aimed at undecided, moderate voters. As an undecided, moderate voter, the ad only irritated me. While I'm glad to see the McCain campaign doing -something- about Obama, this isn't exactly what I had in mind.

Posted by: MVH at August 1, 2008 9:17 AM

seth - Sure, 30-second TV spots always skim over a lot of nuance, it's the nature of the beast. But Obama initially planned to visit the wounded soldiers, then backed out when they said he could only bring a single Senate staffer. Spin that however you want.

dante - Um, what exactly does "uppity" mean in this context? Nobody's arguing that the man's unqualified to be a freaking United States Senator. We're just measuring him by the same yardstick that's been used for prior presidential candidates. He's the one who rolled out his own presidential seal and named his transition team in July, who encourages all this hype and cult-like aspects (supporters changing their middle names to his), the one who thinks he doesn't need to answer many press questions, talk to bloggers or do Q&A with voters, who has his wife out there saying that the people need to change for Barack and the nation needs to deserve him...the examples of this are legion. You saying nobody would have said this stuff about Kerry or Bush or Gore if they acted like that?

Thompson - No, not fraudulent or racist. But the Rev. Wright stuff, for example, is both a fair and an accurate line of attack about who Obama has chosen as his closest friends and associates over periods of many years; McCain should accept that he will be called a racist no matter what he does (see Berto's comment), and lay the facts before the people. But what I'm specifically talking about here is what Davis did - call him out on what he is doing, don't hold back.

Posted by: The Crank at August 1, 2008 11:55 AM

"Sure, 30-second TV spots always skim over a lot of nuance, it's the nature of the beast"
An absolute evasion. McCain's ad lied, pure and simple. It said that Obama cancelled the visit because cameras/media would not be permitted to record it, which is flatly a lie. The ad of course mentioned nothing about the Pentagon's concerns about political campaigning on their property. I have no problem with the "inexperience" line of attack, its fair game just like Obama's "old tired politics" attack is fair game on McCain. But the descent into lying and throwing white women into the ads a la Harold Ford needs to be called out for what it is....disgusting, and frankly beneath the McCain I used to respect.

Posted by: seth soothsayer at August 1, 2008 12:09 PM

...And the "played the race card from the bottom of the deck" was a direct quote from the OJ trial, so who is kidding who. Was a preplanned attack. They were going to use the quote, just a matter of when.

Posted by: robert at August 1, 2008 6:37 PM

McCain has his finger on the most important issues. Iraq? Hardly. The economy? What, are you stupid?

No. It is whether Obama is like Britney or Paris.

The man just -- dammit -- makes me proud to be an American. A beer-swilling, gun-toting, church-going American!!

Posted by: Magrooder at August 3, 2008 10:52 PM
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