Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. In fact, Mark Schmitt wrote in May
that it was the Republican's "single alternative." Now, after hiring a
cavalcade of Rove disciples, John McCain has finally descended into the
murky world of "identity politics.&...
Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. In fact, Mark Schmitt wrote in May that it was the Republican's "single alternative." Now, after hiring a cavalcade of Rove disciples, John McCain has finally descended into the murky world of "identity politics." With his infamous Britney/Paris ad and the accusation that Obama played the "race card," the GOP campaign has taken to stressing that Obama simply isn't fit to lead this country. He's too cosmopolitan, too out of touch, too divorced from "our experiences," and just too black. New York Magazine's John Heilemann has more:
The racial undertones of this assault are subtle but undeniable, as Obama himself suggested when he asserted last week that his opponents are trying to make voters “scared” of him because he “doesn’t look like the other presidents on the currency.” They’re most glaring in “Troops,” which features footage of Obama sinking a three-pointer in Kuwait, despite the fact that the shot took place at a military base, which undermines the ad’s argument. But the spot’s deeper aim is to foster an unconscious simile: Obama as a blinged-up, camera-hungry, NBA shooting guard, Allen Iverson with a Harvard Law degree. Am I reaching? Consider this: Would the ad have featured footage of Obama on a golf course draining a hole-in-one? “No, it wouldn’t,” laughs a GOP media savant. “The racial angle is the first thing I thought of when I saw that ad. It fits into the celebrity stuff, too.” (For McCain, that impolitic, pro-Obama Ludacris track was manna from hip-hop heaven.)
Heilmann quotes some unnamed Democrats who are chomping at the bit to fight back. Obama's response show's “shades of Swift Boat,” one organizer says. But as The American Prospect's Adam Serwer points out in his smart analysis of McCain's new approach, Obama's race and his hope-based narrative place him in a very tenuous position. Many white people see his campaign as proof that these types of racism no longer exist. Therefore, calling attention to the attacks could backfire:
For the most part, most white people's experience with race isn't one of racial discrimination. They can only relate to racial discrimination in the abstract. What white people can relate to is the fear of being unjustly accused of racism. This is the larger half. This is why allegations of racism often provoke more outrage than actual racism, because most of the country can relate to one (the accusation of racism) easier than the other (actual racism). For this reason, in a political conflict over race, the McCain campaign has the advantage, because saying the race card has been played is actually the ultimate race card.
Serwer goes on to argue that the Obama campaign should avoid discussing race as much as possible and instead attempt to pivot back to the stark policy contrasts between the two candidates.
But in America, race can never be ignored. And if managed tactfully, Obama can revive the stinging rebuttal he developed in his much-heralded speech on race back in March: his embrace of multi-racial economic populism. Whether or not he can find an economic message that works is yet to be seen. But this seems to be the approach that would allow him to beat back McCain's race-baiting while focusing on policy. And that's the best of both worlds.