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Jewish World Review
March 14, 2008
/ 7 Adar II 5768
The plain things nobody can say
We're doomed to a bitter, rancid presidential campaign, fraught with peril, and not just for John McCain. For Barack Obama, too. And let's not forget Hillary, as a lot of people are eager to do.
The Obama campaign, if not necessarily the man himself, seems determined to make tough questioning of the man and his qualifications off-limits. Mild, general criticism is OK, barely, but pressing too hard with the wrong questions is taken for racism, bigotry, fanaticism, zealotry and other forms of treachery. Once upon a time, presidential candidates labored mightily to find a log-cabin birthplace in their past, but some Democrats think they've come up with a candidate born in a manger.
As the sheen on the Obama image dissipates, as sheen surely will under the full weight of a presidential campaign, American voters will expect to indulge their right to say what they think about the candidates. If they must be ever-so-careful to criticize Barack Obama in the robust and rowdy way they feel free to criticize everybody else, reticence will quickly become resentment, and ultimately, just in time for November, revulsion. Sen. Obama deserves better.
Racism, the unpardonable sin in modern America, has made race the unmentionable subject, no matter how delicately broached or innocently discussed. Such good faith as the speaker may bring to the conversation no longer counts for very much. With her airy comment to a California newspaper, the Torrance Daily Breeze, suggesting that Barack Obama wouldn't be the marketing man's dream if he were not a black man, Geraldine Ferraro made herself a candidate for boiling in oil. (Extra-virgin olive oil, you might be tempted to say, if she were anyone but an Italian-American.) She concedes she was chosen by Walter Mondale for his running mate because she was a woman and what she actually said about the senator from Illinois was inartfully phrased: "If Obama were a white man, he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept."
This is what you can hear, privately expressed by any number of prominent Democrats, some of them white and some of them black. The Clintons have done themselves and, more important, the nation ill by their desperate and not-so-subtle invocation of race. Barack Obama is not wholly innocent, either. Bubba has taken heat, for example, for describing Sen. Obama's description of his public record as "a fairy tale." This sounds at first hearing a cruel dig at gays, but no, it was taken as a racist taunt. We weren't told why.
Now two more prominent Democrats have entangled themselves in the snare that is the mark of the campaign. Mark Penn, the chief Clinton strategist, told reporters that "we believe the Pennsylvania primary will show that Hillary is ready to win, and that Sen. Obama really can't win the general election." That's one man's opinion, worth less than what Hillary's paying for it. He later tried to revise his remarks (but only congressmen get to do that, and only in the Congressional Record), saying that losing the Pennsylvania primary would raise questions about Sen. Obama's ability to win. Then Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, scoffed that there would be no "dream ticket" of Hillary and Obama, or of Obama and Hillary. "Take it from me," she said. "That won't be the ticket."
Knowing better, perhaps, she declined to say why. But she's probably reflecting the conventional unstated wisdom in Washington: You can't expect to break both the color line and the glass ceiling in one election. When someone asked the speaker what she thought of Geraldine Ferraro's earlier remarks, she replied: "It's important that perceptions be understood by the campaigns."
This is the kind of code speak we're all required to use. It's unfair to Barack Obama, it's unfair to his opponents whoever they are, and it's unfair to the rest of us. We'll know we've eliminated racism, the real thing, when we can all talk like grown-ups, in front of one another.
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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.
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