Jonah Goldberg writes today that a candidate named Barry O’Malley, running for President with Barack Obama’s record and level of experience, would get laughed off the national stage. Why has Obama succeeded where others would have disappeared long before the first primary? Identity politics, and it’s Republicans who have pulled their punches as a result:
Liberal Democrats have a long tradition of tarring opponents as the monolithic forces of hatred and prejudice while casting themselves as the enlightened proponents of peace, love and decency. And this election shows that tradition is alive and well.
Over the weekend, civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis of Georgia sold off another chunk of his reputation by coughing up some absurd partisan talking point about how the McCain-Palin campaign reminds him of that of Dixiecrat segregationist George Wallace. And, for the last week, a host of reporters — not just liberal pundits — have ominously fretted that the McCain campaign’s use of former domestic terrorist Bill Ayers as an issue is a racist ploy. The Washington Post’s Anne Kornblut, for instance, wrote that Sarah Palin’s comment that Barack Obama was “palling around with terrorists” is “a turn of phrase that critics said was racially loaded.”
The most laughable evidence that McCain is sowing hatred stems from the shouts of “terrorist!” and “kill him!” from a few hothead buffoons at McCain rallies. Of course, rather than foment this sort of thing, McCain went out of his way to chastise his own supporters personally and publicly.
McCain has done nothing to fuel racism. Or, put another way, the McCain campaign has done as much to promote prejudice as the Obama campaign has to inflame the vile passions behind the “Abort Sarah Palin” bumper sticker, Madonna’s stage video lumping McCain in with Hitler, the eugenic snobbery aimed at Palin’s son with Down syndrome or the column in the Philadelphia Daily News that predicted a “race war” if McCain wins.
On the experience issue, I’m not so certain Jonah’s right. Had John Edwards never made two significant runs for the Presidency and got nominated for VP with less experience than Obama or Sarah Palin, I might be inclined to agree. Obama and Edwards seem to epitomize a desire for outsiders that has turned almost into a fetish — but outsiders with national name recognition in politics. It’s hard to imagine anyone more outside than Sarah Palin, and she has actual executive experience (as opposed to Obama and Edwards), but gets treated like a hick because she’s from Alaska instead of the eastern seaboard.
Jonah is more correct when it comes to a media double standard on race and politics. Ironically, the Clintons felt no such need to pull punches. Hillary’s campaign made an issue of Jeremiah Wright, for instance, after Hillary spent February mostly eating Obama’s dust. Her campaign also circulated the photo of Obama wearing traditional African garb on a trip to Kenya. The result? She won most of the rest of the Democratic primaries and forced Obama to limp to the finish line.
Hillary, though, did not have one obstacle that John McCain faces in this election: the national media. The punditocracy has excoriated McCain for his supposedly racially-divisive campaign even without making Hillary’s arguments again. Somehow, as Jonah notes, they have made William Ayers into a racial issue, even though Ayers is as Caucasian as McCain. They have passed along without any criticism the rantings of John Lewis, who compared McCain and Palin to George Wallace (the Wall Street Journal being a rare mainstream-media exception).
Meanwhile, Obama has explicitly played the race card a number of times this summer. He personally accused the McCain campaign of racism twice, only stopping when his surrogates managed to do it more effectively, like Kathleen Sebelius and John Lewis. With the exception of one time each by the Washington Post and ABC News (on their blogs), the media did nothing to expose this tactic by Obama and his campaign on these occasions:
So yes, I agree with Jonah that Obama has had an easy ride on the basis of identity politics — but that’s not really the fault of the McCain campaign. Unfortunately, the media has a glaringly obvious double standard on how it treats the two candidates. McCain could ignore this, of course, but he risks the damage that the media can do with the vast majority of voters who don’t bother to work around the media to discover the truth on their own. As Rick Moran notes, the McCarthyite tactic of accusing opponents of latent racism has no rebuttal that works well in mass-media applications. With three weeks to go to the election, McCain has to work within that reality if he expects to win a national election.