Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Race Card

I've been a supporter of Obama since before the Iowa primary. I haven't volunteered for him (because that's not really me) but I've advocated for him and donated to his cause. Generally speaking, I've been proud of the campaign and its supporters.

However, one of the things that has discomfited me about the behavior of my side is how quickly -- not Obama -- but the supporters of Obama have imputed racist motives on their opponents, whether it be Hillary Clinton's camp or John McCain's.

When we were told that Bill Clinton was a racist because he said Obama's campaign was a "fairy tale" I was confused. I thought 'fairy' was derogative for gays, not blacks. Now, I will admit, not all the protestations about the Clintons were unearned. When Bill pointed out that Jesse Jackson had won in South Carolina too, his meaning was pretty clear: like Jesse, Obama was a marginal black candidate.

Still, over and over, the bloggers supporting Obama have used race as a shield for any criticism of their candidate. Here's one recent example, but it could just as easily be a dozen others:

McCain's latest: claiming that Obama will turn the IRS "into a giant welfare agency." And this even though McCain's rationale for this claim is Obama's support for a refundable tax credit, something McCain himself supports as a centerpiece of his health care plan. Par for the course, really: if you figure in the robocalls and recent ads, McCain's entire campaign is now comprised of innuendo and lies meant to tie Obama to various stereotypes of African-Americans and of course Arab terrorism. His purported foreign policy experience hasn't been part of the campaign's message in weeks. Just black, black, black, terrorist, terrorist, terrorist.
Why go to race? McCain's argument that progressive taxation is akin to socialism is absurd on its face and easily refutable without reliance on unprovable imputations about motives. You see, neither Josh Marshall, nor you, nor I can read minds. So why use an argument that will only be credited by someone who already sees ill will in McCain?

I'm not naive. I have no doubt that Obama's race will cost him among certain voters, and I don't doubt there are people on the Republican side trying to figure out how to maximize that effect. I just don't see the efficacy of calling it out unless it is blisteringly obvious. When you yell "racist!" when someone is just being a run-of-the-mill political heel, you cause a lot of defensive reactions. People develop resentments about their side being falsely accused of an abhorrent trait, and this leads them to be skeptical of any claims for minorities. We pay the cost of heightened divisions without enjoying the benefit of winning over hearts and minds.

Obama has avoided heightening the tensions he spoke of so eloquently in his speech on race. Those of us who support him should follow his lead and do the same.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sometimes a picture...

... is worth a thousand words.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Skill and luck

Obama surely has some astonishing political skills. But he is also one lucky mother.

He loses the primary against Bobby Rush. If he had won, he probably would have gotten lost in the House of Reps. A Senate run in '04 would seem a little impatient and overly ambitious.

Carol Mosely Braun chooses not to run for Senate. That would have nixed his chances, and he wouldn't have even run. He wins the primary.

His Republican opponent, Jack Ryan implodes with divorce revelations. He is replaced by perennial court jester, Alan Keyes. He trounces him.

He is chosen to give the keynote at the 2004 convention. He would not have risen to prominence without that opportunity.

He has a tight race with Hillary Clinton. This allows him to grow his organization, to become better as a candidate, and to receive lots of free media time. All the unpleasant vetting happens in the spring instead of the fall. In retrospect, that tight race was the best thing that could have happened to him. And it could have gone the other way if he had just scored a couple of extra points in New Hampshire.

And now, in the general he faces someone who's age puts in relief his youthfulness and 'change' message. Moreover, he faces the most desultory Republican campaign in memory.

Obama isn't just good. He's also lucky. It's like a Michael Jordan when he's getting the rolls.