JESSE Jackson must have been forgiven by the Obama campaign and
welcomed into its inner circle. Because it sure seems as if he's giving
the campaign advice.
Responding to a McCain ad knocking him as a world celebrity, Barack Obama
essentially accused the McCain campaign of race-baiting. It was a
hair-trigger resort to the charge of racism of the sort that Jackson
built a career on, making himself anathema to the political center.
In 24 hours, Obama had lurched his carefully crafted brand in
Jackson's direction. And for what? The McCain ad intersperses footage
of Obama's massive political rally in Germany with images of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton before asking, "Is he ready to lead?"
It's rare that a political candidate is criticized for being too
popular, but that's the import of the ad, and its inclusion of Spears
and Hilton has been called even by McCain sympathizers "stupid,"
"childish" and "juvenile."
But the McCain ad had a serious point, one the Obama campaign
obviously felt it couldn't ignore. Obama can be as arrogant, gassy and
remote as other famous folk. If this celebrity framework is
successfully imposed on him, the entire repertoire of Obamania - the
mass rallies, the soaring eloquence, the picturesque cool of the
candidate himself - risks becoming a liability.
In a statement Obama repeated three times, he said what George Bush and John McCain
are "going to try to do is make you scared of me. 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 those dollar bills." Translation: Bush
and McCain are going to go all Bull Connor on me.
Neither has done any such thing, of course. McCain has distanced
himself from attacks with the remotest hint of racial undertones. When
a talk-radio host mentioned Obama's middle name several times in the
course of an introduction of McCain at a rally, McCain roundly
denounced him. When the North Carolina Republican Party ran an -
entirely aboveboard - ad linking Obama with his longtime pastor
Jeremiah Wright, McCain loudly objected. Obama's charge is a flat-out
Afterward, an Obama spokesman implausibly insisted the dollar-bills comment wasn't about race: "What Barack Obama was talking about was that he didn't get here after spending decades in Washington."
This is rich. George Washington didn't serve in Washington either,
given that the capital of the country was first New York and then
Philadelphia. His path to the presidency went through Trenton, Valley
Forge and Yorktown. As for the other presidents, neither Abraham
Lincoln, nor Andrew Jackson, nor US Grant was a DC time-server before
winning the White House.
Obama clearly was talking about race. He said much the same thing
in Berlin: "I don't look like the Americans who've previously spoken in
this great city." Did he merely mean that he has better-fitting suits
and a slimmer frame?
Obama has apparently been spoiling to throw out the race charge.
When he won the North Carolina primary, he said McCain would "play on
our fears" and "exploit our differences." In June, he said Republicans
were going to run against him saying: "He's young and inexperienced,
and he's got a funny name. And did I mention he's black?"
Obama hopes to use the racism card to inhibit all criticism of him,
with the presumed cooperation of the press. But there's a much larger
downside. Obama's race is a political advantage so long as it is sold
in a post-racial context. If his background is a symbol of how we can
get beyond the poisoned atmosphere of both racism and the hyperactive,
opportunistic charges of racism, it's a boon to his change-and-unity
candidacy. That's why Jesse Jackson expressing a desire to perform
"surgery" on Obama was a priceless assist.
Now, Obama could throw it away in a fit of self-destructiveness worthy of . . . dare we say it, Britney Spears?