"Obama campaign officials, lacking any example of McCain ever pointing directly or indirectly at Obama's race as an issue in the campaign, have backpedaled rapidly away from any suggestion that their Republican opponent is using the very tactics Obama suggested on Wednesday."
That is a quote from today's WaPo column by Dan Balz, who does an excellent job of running this story to ground, though even he ignores that this is not the first time the "post racial candidate" has jumped deep into the racist scat to use it as a preemptive weapon against criticism specifically from McCain and Republicans. [Update: I have added comments from VD Hanson writing at NRO who asks "Why is Obama foolishly evoking race time after time?"
You can find the background to the story blogged here and here. As to the latest from Obama on this issue, he and his campaign are now playing the racist orphan card - claiming he is being victimized because the McCain camp utterly refuted the suggestion that racism is at the heart of criticism of this most unqualified of candidates. This today from Dan Balz:
Was it Barack Obama, who not so subtly pointed to John McCain and seemingly accused him of trying to scare voters by drawing attention to the fact that Obama doesn't look like (read: he is African American) all the other presidents? Or was it McCain's campaign, which cried foul over Obama's statements with such vehemence that race became the story of the day on all the networks, in all the papers and on all the blogs?
McCain campaign manager Rick Davis and Obama chief strategist David Axelrod continued to argue the question of who played the race card on the Friday morning shows. Davis blamed Obama; Axelrod blamed Davis.
"We were reacting to what Barack Obama himself said about John McCain," Davis said on NBC's "Today Show." "And I think we were perfectly within our rights to protect our candidate and to point out that we're not going to lay down for these kinds of tactics. . . .
"He said it to a crowd in rural Missouri, 99 percent white," Axelrod said moments later on the same program, explaining the context of Obama's remarks. "There were all kinds of press there. Nobody reported it as a racial comment. Nobody certainly said what Rick Davis just said, that he called John McCain a racist. The only time this became an issue was when Rick Davis and their campaign decided to kick it up and make it a racial issue, and that's exactly what -- they've been running a negative campaign for weeks."
Four things are already clear from the controversy. First, Obama campaign officials, lacking any example of McCain ever pointing directly or indirectly at Obama's race as an issue in the campaign, have backpedaled rapidly away from any suggestion that their Republican opponent is using the very tactics Obama suggested on Wednesday.
Campaign manager David Plouffe was pressed hard during a conference call on Thursday for examples and could not point to any. An inquiry to the Obama campaign later in the day produced no immediate response and later no answer to a direct question asking for evidence to buttress Obama's suggestion that McCain would try to scare people into not voting for Obama because he's black.
Officials deny that Obama was suggesting that McCain is racist or running on a racially based message. But they believe the McCain campaign has embraced a low-road strategy and, hoping to contrast themselves with previous Democratic nominees, are prepared to respond to every attack.
Second, the sense of grievance over this issue within McCain's high command is deep and palpable. . . .
Before all this happened, McCain advisers believed that the Obama campaign successfully pinned a racist label on Bill Clinton during the during primaries -- for comments that drew protests from some leading African American politicians -- and were determined not to let the same happen to McCain. Also, they take personally any suggestion from the Obama campaign that they are part of a campaign that would play the race card and are indignant about it.
. . . Third, the more that race is a topic of conversation, the more it could hurt Obama. Though he has been direct in warning about the use of scare tactics by his opponents, he is deeply aware that he is asking much of the electorate to cast a vote for someone with his biography and experience. . . .
. . . Finally, the lack of respect between the two candidates continues to grow. Both began the general election with predictable statements about their desire to have a vigorous but respectful debate. Obama regularly pays tribute to McCain's service in Vietnam. McCain has spoken with admiration for Obama's obvious talents.
In reality, neither now seems to have a high opinion of the other. McCain's lack of respect has been evident for some time. He seems to view Obama as a pretender, who talks about change but has not been willing to cross his party or any important constituencies as a senator, which in McCain's view is necessary to truly change Washington. Obama certainly does honor McCain's service, but is dismayed over what he regards as continuous attacks from McCain. . . .
Read the entire article. My only criticism of the above article is that Mr. Balz does not force the Obama campaign to define what they mean by charging that the McCain camp has taken the "low road." Clearly, Obama is using that as a fall back position - another rhetorical device to dispense with any criticism of his lack of experience and judgement.
It is unfortunate that Balz has written this as a blog post and not an article. His, though flawed, is the most honest treatment of this so far. Far better then the NYT editorial board, who, as the McCain camp pointed out, seem to be auditioning as a group for a spot on Kos as daily diarists.
Update: Victor Davis Hanson discusses the source of this from Obama - hubris and his willingness to play to anything that will support his candidacy in impromptu speaking - and the grave danger in this tactic:
Obama's problems with race have nothing to do with his half -African ancestry or his own experience with racism and unfairness, but boil down to his deftly wanting it both ways: reminding the Germans he is a different sort of American from what they're used to (false, they knew Rice and Powell well enough), while preempting by suggesting others will evoke race, but in a negative context. But his polls, I wager, will begin to slip from all this, because all this sophisticated triangulation is about to blow up in the public mind.
1) The voter is starting to hear serially from Obama about race; they were promised a racially transcendent candidate, but so far Obama seems obsessed with identity, either accusing others of racism, or using heritage himself for political advantage. This is a tragic blunder.
2) He has the same want-it-both-ways with odious racists: Rev. Wright is a former spiritual advisor, and "brilliant" scholar who nevertheless serially slurs America, whites, Italians, Jews, etc. Ludacris is "a great talent" and "talented" to such an extent Obama wants him in his I-pod menu, and has met with him—but also a racist to be shunned. Ditto Pfleger. A pattern is emerging: Obama associates with or tolerates racists when such quasi-intimacy cements street-cred as an authentic minority or someone cool in the anti-Bush mode; but then when they inevitably revert to form, he not merely casts them off, but is "shocked" at their usual expression, and so like speed bumps they litter the roadway as he barrels ahead.
. . . [H]e must remember why he lost all those primaries to Hillary and to what degree his campaign since then has addressed those concerns that lost him those electorates. When a West Virginian hears that Obama is accusing others of racism, or hears him promise that racial reparations will now be a matter of government deeds not words, or a rapper brags he is a favorite of Obama and then slurs Clinton, McCain, Bush in thinly disguised racist terms, it starts to create an image of someone who is not bringing people together, but precisely the opposite.
Why all this? Inexperience and hubris—the same overconfidence that makes him say we need a Pentagon-sized new civilian aid department, to inflate our tires to avoid drilling, and must stop merely talking about reparations and starting doing something about them. His handlers need to return to the teleprompter, since all these incidents have in common the impromptu moment.
Read the entire post. VDS seems to see this as a tactic to be changed. The scary part is that it is a window into the charachter of Obama. He is very simply a man whose principles, if he has any, are clearly subordinate to his ambition.