Thursday, February 28, 2008

Race, Identity Sensitive Issues in Campaign '08

With the McCain campaign's recent mini-controversy over a supporter's introductory remarks at a town hall rally stressing Barak Obama's middle name, it looks as though a new era of top-level racial senstitivity has arrived:

The Los Angeles Times has the story:

When John McCain apologized to Barack Obama this week for the comments of his warm-up act at a rally, it was not the first time -- and probably won't be the last -- that the most competitive black presidential candidate in U.S. history has heard the words, "I'm sorry."

In his yearlong quest to win the White House, the Democratic senator from Illinois has changed the rules of political engagement, forcing his rivals to step delicately in a normally no-holds-barred arena.

As the possibility grows that voters may bestow the nation's highest public office on an African American, serial public apologies -- largely by Democrats -- show just how sensitive race remains. What is less clear is how race could help or hinder Obama, who has struggled to keep it in the background.

If current or future opponents focus on Obama's race, it could help them by playing on some voters' racial prejudice, or it could help Obama if he is seen as a sympathetic victim of his rivals' insensitivity.
Hey, what happened to the "Obama's Bradley effect?"

I thought race was supposed drag down black candidates at the polls, not give them an advantage? Maybe there's a "
Reverse Bradley Effect" working to give black candidates an edge, since questions of race can't be raised for fears of allegations of insensitivity. Boy, it's tough to run a campaign these days...

And don't even get me going about religion!

Throughout Obama's campaign, foes have invoked his middle name as a kind of dual-use code word to remind voters of his African ancestry and call into question his Christian faith.

McCain had not arrived at the rally in time to hear Cunningham's remarks. Asked whether Obama's middle name -- a family name of Arab descent -- was appropriate fodder for political discourse, McCain said, "No, it is not. . . . I absolutely repudiate such comments."
Now, seriously, McCain made the right call on the "Hussein" smear, simply because Obama's not Muslim and he's got no ties to international Islamic terrorism.

Domestic terrorism another story, however. Will
Obama's ties to former Chicago Weathermen be off the table of reasonable campaign challenges and debate?

Geez, it's getting to be so that a guy can't raise old-fashioned questions of character these days, not to mention sling a little mud!