Chutzpah Takes On New Meaning

To paraphrase P.T. Barnum, no one will ever go broke underestimating the assertiveness of the press in this country. Watching the cringing, sycophantic way that CNN’s John King questioned John McCain about the fairness of McCain’s accusation that Obama had “played the race card” by saying that McCain was trying to scare voters against him because he didn’t look like all those other faces on the dollar bills, made me want to cringe. “Do you think that was fair?” “Yes, I think it was.” “Well, they say it isn’t.” “Well, we’ll let the voters decide.” Oh, okay. Thank you for helping Americans understand what’s going on with this controversy, Mr. King. I mean, if that’s all CNN thinks is required, then why didn’t they just pull any third-grader off the street to interview McCain and save King for something more challenging?

Fortunately, and to my enormous relief, there is one traditional media outlet that employs a minimum of one journalist who understands why it was beyond outrageous for the McCain campaign to claim that Sen. Obama was “playing the race card.” I say “a minimum of one” because it’s possible there is more than one such individual at this outlet — it’s an opinion blog called “The Board,” and it’s written by “the New York Times editorial board, a group of journalists with wide-ranging areas of expertise, whose primary responsibility is to write The Times’s editorials.” And whoever wrote this particular entry nailed the central point to the wall:

We know that operatives in modern-day presidential campaigns are supposed to say things that everyone knows are ridiculous — and to do it with a straight face.

Still, there was something surreal, and offensive, about today’s soundbite from the campaign of Senator John McCain.

The presumptive Republican nominee has embarked on a bare-knuckled barrage of negative advertising aimed at belittling Mr. Obama. The most recent ad compares the presumptive Democratic nominee for president to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton — suggesting to voters that he’s nothing more than a bubble-headed, publicity-seeking celebrity.

The ad gave us an uneasy feeling that the McCain campaign was starting up the same sort of racially tinged attack on Mr. Obama that Republican operatives ran against Harold Ford, a black candidate for Senate in Tennessee in 2006. That assault, too, began with videos juxtaposing Mr. Ford with young, white women.

Mr. Obama called Mr. McCain on the ploy, saying, quite rightly, that the Republicans are trying to scare voters by pointing out that he “doesn’t look like all those other Presidents on those dollar bills.’’

But Rick Davis, Mr. McCain’s campaign manager, had a snappy answer. “Barack Obama has played the race card, and he played it from the bottom of the deck,” he said. “It’s divisive, negative, shameful and wrong.’’

The retort was, we must say, not only contemptible, but shrewd. It puts the sin for the racial attack not on those who made it, but on the victim of the attack.

McCain supporters are calling the NYT piece “repulsive,” but what’s really repulsive is playing on racist stereotypes and imagery to discredit a political opponent, and then accusing the target of the racism of “playing the race card” for pointing it out.

One Response to “Chutzpah Takes On New Meaning”

  1. Tom says:

    The Newsweek blog also lays the blame at the feet of the McCain campaign, though in a thoughtful and even-handed way:

    http://blog.newsweek.com/blogs/stumper/archive/2008/07/31/playing-the-playing-the-race-card-card.aspx

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