Injecting Race Into the Campaign

Injecting Race Into the Campaign

By David Harsanyi - August 1, 2008

And finally we're off . . .

There's a myth out there, typically advanced by moralizing media types and other unsavory characters, that Americans hate negative campaigning.

You know, it's corrosive to democracy, beneath our dignity and an unworthy sideshow in political discourse.

The myth claims you want nothing to do with this ugliness. Which is true if the attacks happen to be directed at your favored candidate.

In reality, nearly every campaign benefits from attack ads. Quite often, voters also win, learning more about the mettle of those vying for office. Luckily, the first nasty exchange between our presumptive nominees, John McCain and Barack Obama, is one such occasion.

McCain, whose camp once claimed that he would "run a respectful campaign focused on the issues and values that are important to the American people," has canned the preening and joined the real world.

And when the Republican nominee ran a clumsy negative television ad this week poking fun at Obama's worldwide celebrity, contrasting him to vacuous personalities like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, there was much to be critical about. How could McCain have sunk so low?

I mean, Paris Hilton?

McCain, of course, is trying to feed the perception that Obama is an untested lightweight, a mere celebrity unworthy of higher office. Or, more precisely, as McCain aide Steve Schmidt asks: "Do the American people want to elect the world's biggest celebrity, or do they want to elect an American hero?"

Well, it depends.

Most voters want to elect someone who furthers their ideological and partisan agendas -- or, quite often, someone they find personally appealing. The presidential race is by definition a popularity contest. So, one has to wonder why McCain would run an advertisement pointing out the enormous popularity of his opponent.

Anyway, the entire brouhaha would have reflected poorly on McCain had Obama and others not responded with the tired and transparently ridiculous charge of racism.

The New York Times editorial board, quick to take offense for all enlightened people, claimed that McCain's ad was filled with "sinister overtones, a ham-handed attempt to belittle Mr. Obama as a person that brings back unpleasant memories" of other "racist" campaigns.

OK. We can agree that young white women who are flushed with cash but lacking basic cerebral skills should feel slighted. But the only truly unpleasant memory this kerfuffle evokes, thanks to Obama, is the disreputable use of the race card.

"Nobody thinks that Bush and McCain have a real answer to the challenges we face. So what they're going to try to do is make you scared of me," Obama explained. "You know, he's not patriotic enough, he's got a funny name, you know, he doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills."

We know this is just a prefabricated attack, because last month in Florida, Obama brandished a similar, less opaque, comment, saying, "They're going to try to make you afraid. They're going to try to make you afraid of me. He's young and inexperienced and he's got a funny name. And did I mention he's black?"

It's true; Obama is black. And the person who keeps mentioning that Barack Obama is black most often is Barack Obama.

In fact, Obama has preemptively accused the entire McCain campaign of racism and the entire electorate of being susceptible to racism.

So now, those of you who find Obama's inexperience or his policy prescriptions -- or even his personality -- lacking, have fallen prey to bigoted politics. You are too frightened to see the light. The hope.

Yet, in reality, the typical American, according to a recent Gallup poll, is far more prone to spurn an elderly candidate (or gay, atheist, Hispanic, Jew, etc.) than they are to reject an African-American candidate.

One of the appealing aspects of Obama's early run this year was that he transcended these stale tactics -- even as his own party, mind you, was injecting race into the campaign.

Then again, with this much power at stake, it was bound to get ugly.

Change? Not exactly.


David Harsanyi is a senior editor at The Federalist. Follow him on Twitter @davidharsanyi.

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