Harvard prof: You know what Hillary's "3 a.m." ad reminds me of? Birth of a Nation

There had to be a murky racial subtext in there somewhere; every attack on Obama contains one if you’re just willing to look hard enough. I thought TPM would be the ones to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow but instead it’s Orlando Patterson, drinking in a critique of a black candidate that features sleeping non-black children and concluding, naturally enough, that it’s quasi-Klan propaganda.

I have spent my life studying the pictures and symbols of racism and slavery, and when I saw the Clinton ad’s central image — innocent sleeping children and a mother in the middle of the night at risk of mortal danger — it brought to my mind scenes from the past. I couldn’t help but think of D. W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation,” the racist movie epic that helped revive the Ku Klux Klan, with its portrayal of black men lurking in the bushes around white society. The danger implicit in the phone ad — as I see it — is that the person answering the phone might be a black man, someone who could not be trusted to protect us from this threat.

The ad could easily have removed its racist sub-message by including images of a black child, mother or father — or by stating that the danger was external terrorism. Instead, the child on whom the camera first focuses is blond. Two other sleeping children, presumably in another bed, are not blond, but they are dimly lighted, leaving them ambiguous. Still it is obvious that they are not black — both, in fact, seem vaguely Latino…

It is possible that what I saw in the ad is different from what Mrs. Clinton and her operatives saw and intended. But as I watched it again and again I could not help but think of the sorry pass to which we may have come — that someone could be trading on the darkened memories of a twisted past that Mr. Obama has struggled to transcend.

Standard caution applies: If the left is this hot to play the race card on the wife of the “first black president,” nothing but nothing’s going to save Maverick from demagoguery 100 times as bad. Exit question: If you need a Ph.D. in sociology and familiarity with a silent film most Americans have never seen to grasp the “real” meaning of a spot intended to sway a mass audience, might it be that the fatal subtext isn’t really there?