My pal Jay Cost says the “chains” remark was no ad lib:

[T]here is a danger for the president: Obama’s path to reelection depends not simply on doing as well as previous Democrats with African Americans, but doing much better. Doing only as well as John Kerry, Al Gore, or Bill Clinton with the black vote would imperil Obama’s chances in November…

The vital context here is Obama’s decline among white voters. This week, the Rasmussen poll finds him winning the support of just 35 percent of likely white voters, compared to 43 percent support from whites in 2008. Obama might be able to make some of this deficit up with an improvement in the Hispanic vote, but liberal pundits have been overstating its importance for a decade. In the last 10 years, the Hispanic share of the electorate has increased by only about 1 percent, and Republicans have consistently won at least 30 percent of that vote.

So, Obama really needs African Americans to come through for him about strongly as they did in 2008. Right now, that looks like a questionable proposition, which may help explain Biden’s remarks this week.

That’s totally consistent with O’s strategy over the last few months of pandering to core liberal constituencies to boost turnout rather than moving towards the center to win independents. He “evolved” on gay marriage and changed his mind on using executive power to create a DREAM safe haven for young illegals because he concluded that there’s not much left he can do after three years to persuade undecideds in the middle. He needs the left out in force on election day. Here’s the problem with Jay’s theory, though: My impression of the election this year so far is that Team O has used racial appeals less than they did four years ago. People forget, I think, how often that card was played in 2008 because each nasty incident was submerged in the larger hopey-changey feelgood narrative about our new post-partisan messiah. Arguably, it wasn’t even McCain who got the worst of it: Obama’s supporters destroyed Bill Clinton and other Hillary surrogates with accusations of racism during the primary. When the general election finally arrived, despite McCain’s insistence on not bringing up Rev. Wright, The One himself blithely asserted that his opponent would make an issue of his race and used occasional coded appeals when speaking to black audiences. And his fans among the left’s rank and file were even more loathsome than he was. The low point, as I recall, was when they claimed that McCain’s silly ad goofing on Obama for being the world’s biggest celebrity was actually a racist attack because it featured O alongside two blonde white women and that was supposed to be sexually threatening or something.

I doubt there’s any way to quantify the number of racial panders then versus now but my sense is that there have been fewer in this campaign so far. (Emphasis: So far.) Maybe that’s to be expected given the historic nature of Obama’s candidacy last time, with race a much bigger part of the storyline, but per Cost’s logic there should actually be more such panders this time, no? O’s theoretically more dependent upon them because he has neither the promise of Hopenchange nor a good record as president to run on, and yet aside from Biden’s dimwitted “chains” remark, there hasn’t been anything really overt lately from the Dems’ leadership. (Or am I forgetting something?) It’s grassroots liberals and pundits who specialize in it, but they don’t really matter; Toure’s not changing anyone’s mind, I promise. In fact, I’m a bit surprised at just how much skeptical coverage Biden’s “chains” line got from the media, to the point where even People magazine felt obliged to press O on it. There seems to be less of an appetite among the press for that sort of thing this time, possibly because even they can’t in good conscience square Obama’s “hope” rhetoric from four years ago with heavy handed racial appeals now. I even think it’s possible, although maybe not likely, that Biden came up with the “chains” line himself in the spur of the moment. Democrats have been getting away with racial smears of Republicans like that for ages; why wouldn’t Biden make a snap judgment that he could get away with it too? Imagine his shock upon being told that it was “unhelpful.”

I don’t know. Maybe I’m overlooking some other obvious examples of prominent Obama allies playing the race card, but so far the campaign’s been more about how Republicans hate and want to kill everyone, especially the sick and elderly, than minorities in particular. It’s nice to see Democrats return to tradition, my friends. For your viewing pleasure, via Mediaite, here’s Toure pretending to be sorry for what he said on MSNBC yesterday. Not for attacking Romney along racial lines, mind you, just for his choice of words in doing so.