Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
August 4, 2008
POLITICS: The John Edwards Test

One more on this theme before I move on.

The Obama campaign and its supporters have been quick to throw around charges of racism when their candidate has been criticized. I propose the following easily-applied thought experiment before evaluating such charges: would Republicans say the same thing about John Edwards?

Edwards is not, of course, precisely identical to Obama, but if you were conducting a test for racial bias and needed a white "tester" to change places with Obama, he's as good a fit as you'd be likely to find - close to Obama's age, similar in his level of experience (one undistinguished Senate term, tenuous grasp of national security issues) and accomplishment (close to zero), smooth-talking but challenged in answering tough questions, and drawing his support from a similar ideological base. By far the biggest distinguishing factor between the two men is the color of their skin.

Now, some will argue that this is not the right test, that some attacks that would be fair game against Edwards would not be fair against Obama. But watch for this switch: it's the point at which Obama supporters have stopped asking for sympathy for their candidate having to carry burdens other candidates wouldn't face, and instead are asking for immunity from the burdens other candidates must shoulder. And that's precisely the point at which a lot of people who might sympathize with Obama's appeals to fairness will instead see that he's asking to be judged by a different set of rules nobody else gets to play by.

So, applying that test, where does it get you? Obama has complained about McCain harping on the risk of Obama's inexperience and national security naivete, but certainly Republicans would be arguing that an Edwards presidency would be a huge risk to the nation and its economy (indeed, I challenge you to name a presidential campaign in living memory in which one or both candidates was not accused of being a risky choice, from the 1964 'Daisy' ad to Al Gore's "risky scheme" rhetoric). Obama is squealing about an ad comparing him to shallow celebrities like Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, but given that right-wing pundits for years have referred to Edwards as the Breck Girl or the Silky Pony, it's hard to see why the GOP would forego a similar line of attack. Edwards never matched the pomposity of Obama's cult of personality, but not for lack of trying; certainly the absurd arrogance of Obama's declaration that his primary victory would lead to the very tides receding was criticized from the Right on much the same basis as Edwards' claim that a John Kerry presidency would get Christopher Reeve out of his wheelchair. Edwards' left-wing lawyer wife was criticized for some of her pronouncements on the trail just as Obama's left-wing lawyer wife has been, and just as Bill Clinton's was.

Obama has given the Right opportunities Edwards never did, in terms of his associations with Marxist third parties, crooked political fixers, unrepentant domestic terrorists, Palestinian agitators, and the like. But nobody in their right minds thinks Edwards would have been immune to criticism if he'd had the same circle of friends.

Probably the one exception is the Rev. Wright story. Edwards would certainly have faced intense criticism if he'd had Obama's sort of longstanding personal relationship with a preacher who howled "God damn America!" and inflamed the sort of racial resentments as Rev. Wright, and that's true whether it was a racist white preacher or a racist black preacher. But the Wright story is uniquely damaging to Obama because it's a black man's black preacher; it's a story that speaks to white voters' fears that Obama will be willing to listen to the counsel of those who see fairness and equality as secondary to resentment and payback and score-settling.

I still contend that his association with Rev. Wright is entirely fair game - it's Obama, after all, who chose this man as a role model and spiritual mentor, who named his book after one of Rev. Wright's fiery sermons. But at least I can understand why this particular line of attack makes Sen. McCain more nervous than many others, because it undeniably does put Obama in a different place than it would put John Edwards. But in that regard, it is very much unlike any of the criticisms the McCain campaign has actually chosen to deploy.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:14 AM | Politics 2008 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)

If McCain were running against Edwards, he still wouldn't be discussing the issues and would try to make the election about personality.
In McCain's (and the GOP's) defense, he'd have to. He's drawn a losing hand on the issues and he (and anyone paying a modicum of attention) knows it.

Posted by: Berto at August 4, 2008 11:41 AM

McCain's been talking about issues for months, it's just that nobody pays attention until the subject becomes personalities. Obama's the one selling himself on a substanceless cloud of hopechange, the 'historic' nature of his candidacy and his 'cool' brand image. It's hard to say McCain hasn't said enough about, say, Iraq, Iran or energy or trade policy.

Posted by: Crank at August 4, 2008 12:10 PM

Crank, I've got to call you on this line "Obama's the one selling himself on a substanceless cloud of hopechange"... Did you watch his speach today on energy indepence? He outlines more than a dozen very specific actions to be taken to achieve energy independence. Most of the items outlined in Obamas speech are supported by T Boone Pickens (not exactly a liberal) in his Pickens Plan.

I have not heard a similar itemized plan from McCain.

With respect to the question of whether or not the Obama campaign is "quick to throw around charges of racism when their candidate has been criticized".... I'd have to disagree as well. Are they quick to "respond" and are they quick to label McCain's criticisms as 'more about Obama's persona' and less about the substance of Obama's positions... Yes, I'd agree with that.

Let's admit it, the McCain campaign is doing everything they can to turn this into a referendum on Obama. And the best option they have is to raise the "specter" of "we don't know this guy"... Are there undertones of racism in the McCain campaigns words... I don't think so... but are their many racists who will take the concepts and words presented by McCain and hear "black man==scary"... uh... duh! Of course! So in that sense... I agree with you that there are several McCain attacks which aren't per se racist... and, as far as I'm concerned... they're fine... go for it.

But, it seems now that the media, and the McCain supports are trying to respond to any reply from the Obama camp with "see... they accused us of racism" when in fact (at least in what I've seen from the Obama campaign) they didn't at all accuse McCain of racism... they just critiqued the critiques as being less about substance and more about persona.

Posted by: ZappoMan at August 4, 2008 2:56 PM

This is really the first dust-up of Obama's campaign suggesting racism on the part of McCain's. But they weren't shy about accusing Bill and Hillary of it. The difference is that McCain doesn't have to be nearly as careful about pushing back.

Posted by: Jerry at August 4, 2008 4:19 PM

This post confirms it -- Crank you have a hang up with Obama's race. I think this is your eighth post stemming from one comment Obama made about the fact that he may not look like the folks on our currency. He's black -- deal with it. When can we expect your next post on Obama's failure to reign in Al Sharpton.

Posted by: Patrick at August 4, 2008 9:50 PM

It's not just one comment when the man repeats it at three different campaign stops in the same day. And that's really just one example of Obama and his supporters pushing this notion.

I'm old enough to remember, among others, the 2006 Virginia Senate race, when the fixation on "one comment" was the critical factor in the race. Here, Obama accused McCain of running on Obama's race. That sort of thing can't ever be left unrebutted.

Posted by: The Crank at August 4, 2008 10:01 PM

Rielle Hunter of the John Edwards story: The $9,644 judgment and her ex who
is also an attorney

Posted by: Robert Lewis at August 6, 2008 9:36 PM
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