Michael Powell does his best to spin Barack Obama’s stumble this week in smearing John McCain as a racist, but he can’t quite close the deal in his New York Times article. The headline proclaims Obama as “careful” on race, but Obama has been anything but careful. He’s been reckless on it twice in the last six weeks, and this time he got called out by McCain in a way that the press couldn’t ignore.
Here’s the spin:
Senator Barack Obama is a man of few rhetorical stumbles, but this week a few of his words opened a racial door his campaign would prefer not to step through. When Senator John McCain’s camp replied by accusing him of playing the race card from the bottom of the deck, the Obama campaign seemed at least momentarily off balance.
The instinctive urge to punch back was tempered by the fact that race is a fire that could singe both candidates. So on Friday the Obama campaign, a carefully controlled lot on the best of days, reacted most cautiously as it sought to tamp down any sense that it was at war with Mr. McCain over who was the first to inject race into the contest. Mr. Obama made no mention of the issue, except for a brief reference in an interview with a local newspaper in Florida.
“I was in Union, Mo., which is 98 percent white, a rural conservative, and what I said was what I think everyone knows, which is that I don’t look like I came out of central casting when it comes to presidential candidates,” he told The St. Petersburg Times. “There was nobody there who thought at all that I was trying to inject race in this.”
The furor started on Thursday when Rick Davis, Mr. McCain’s campaign manager, said, “Barack Obama has played the race card, and he played it from the bottom of the deck.” Mr. Davis was alluding to Mr. Obama’s remarks on Wednesday that Republicans would try to scare voters by pointing out that he “doesn’t look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills.”
Got that? The furor started when Rick Davis pointed out the explicit claim that the McCain campaign — not just Republicans but specifically McCain’s campaign — would try to scare people by pointing out that he “doesn’t look” like past presidents. No one thought Obama referred to hair style.
Powell didn’t do a very good job of keeping up with this story, either. He writes that David Plouffe and David Axelrod refuted the charge, but as Allahpundit pointed out, Axelrod admitted under pressure that Obama did mean to point out his race in that passage:
When pressed to explain the comment, Axelrod told “GMA” it meant, “He’s not from central casting when it comes to candidates for president of the United States. He’s new to Washington. Yes, he’s African-American.”
And let’s not forget his June appearance in Jacksonville, where he accused the Republicans and the McCain campaign of preparing to scare people because, “did I mention he’s black?” Careful? Obama has been about as irresponsible with his charges of racism as he possibly could be. McCain has stayed far away fromany attack points that could possibly be perceived as racist, as Jake Tapper wrote, and yet Obama smeared him anyway. When McCain defended himself forcefully, though, the New York Times credits that as the start of the “furor”.
The Obama campaign is the one selling fear and smears. It didn’t take much to provoke it from Obama himself, either. Whenever McCain attacks his policies or his lack of experience, Obama shows himself as thin-skinned and reactionary, willing to toss rhetorical bombs that he can’t support. That’s the antithesis of “careful”. Given the incendiary nature of the accusation, it’s the epitome of recklessness, and it says quite a bit about the man who so carelessly throws that smear at his opponents.