I consider E.J. Dionne one of the best center-left columnists in the nation, usually a man of intellectual honesty and genuine conviction, and on a personal basis, a gentleman of the first order.  Perhaps that’s why I find today’s column so disappointing.  In it, he casually lets Barack Obama off the hook for smearing John McCain as a racist, and then attacks his campaign for fighting the smear:

Last week’s dust-up over race between John McCain and Barack Obama was entirely disappointing. Obama spoke first about how his opponents would try to “make you scared of me,” noting that he “doesn’t look like all those other presidents” on our currency. What Obama said was true, but he made the tactical mistake of suggesting that McCain was complicit in overtly racial politics.

Was it true?  Dionne doesn’t provide a single example of the McCain campaign or the RNC of playing racial politics.  He claims later that Republican attacks against “liberal elites” is code for black, which is ridiculous on its face.  Otherwise, John Kerry would have been mistaken as the first black candidate for President.  Heck, Adlai Stevenson would have been mistaken as such.  Republicans have run against Ivy League elitism for decades without having an African-American opponent, even — amusingly — when the GOP fielded Ivy League candidates like the Bushes.

That gave Rick Davis, McCain’s campaign manager, the excuse to offer the preposterous charge that Obama had “played the race card, and he played it from the bottom of the deck.”

Preposterous?  Even Dionne admits that Obama made the “tactical mistake” of accusing McCain of attacking him on the basis of race.  It wasn’t just a tactical mistake, either; it was a flat-out lie.  McCain has been extremely careful to disassociate himself from such attacks, scolding surrogates and party organizations who even got close to the issue, and terminating one staffer who Twittered about a Jeremiah Wright video.  McCain has worked hard to ensure that his campaign and the RNC do not venture into that territory, and yet Obama glibly accused him of racism anyway.

Nor was it the first time Obama had done so.  In June, he told a Jacksonville audience that McCain and the RNC would attack him for his skin color.  The McCain campaign lodged a milder protest at the time, promising to run a clean and respectful campaign and pledging opposition to any mention of race.  Unfortunately, Obama didn’t do the same, and repeated his baseless characterization of McCain as a race-baiter.

That’s a smear.  It’s McCarthyite on the face of it.  Dionne should know this, and I’m frankly disappointed that Dionne won’t admit it or call out Obama for it.  The only mainstream people making race an issue in this campaign are all on the Left, and Dionne has missed the opportunity for a little intellectual honesty on this point.