Geraldine Ferraro states the obvious - being black is helping Barack - and is getting pummeled for it. Of course, Ms. Ferraro is a bit of a flawed messenger here, since one might suspect her claim to history is based entirely on her gender, but then again, few things can rival a Dem Party tussle over identity politics for sheer comedic value.
Let's start near the beginning:
"If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position," Ferraro told a local California newspaper last week.
"And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept," Ferraro said.
Oh, dear. Let's hear from Obama:
"I don't think Geraldine Ferraro's comments have any place in our politics or in the Democratic Party," Obama told Pennsylvania's Allentown Morning Call newspaper. "They are divisive. I think anybody who understands the history of this country knows they are patently absurd. And I would expect that the same way those comments don't have a place in my campaign they shouldn't have a place in Senator Clinton's either."
If the Obama people are hoping to get payback for their own gutless dumping of Samantha Power, the genocide chick, it looks like they can forget it; Hillary sounds inclined to Move On:
In an interview with ABC News affiliate WHTM, Clinton, D-N.Y., ignored calls from the Obama campaign to remove Ferraro from her campaign, saying, "Well, I don't agree with that and I think it's important that we try to stay focused on issues that matter to the American people."
In a relatively mild response, Clinton continued, "And both of us have had supporters and staff members who've gone over the line and we have to reign them in and try to keep this on the issues. There are big differences between us on the issues — let's stay focused on that."
Geraldine, however, is moving forward, with emphasis added:
Any time anybody does anything that in any way pulls [the Obama] campaign down and says let's address reality and the problems we're facing in this world, you're accused of being racist, so you have to shut up," Ferraro said. "Racism works in two different directions. I really think they're attacking me because I'm white. How's that?"
Whichever side of the current spin war you buy, or partially buy, this is a very tough case for Ferraro, in particular, to make -- given that the Clinton campaign has already distanced itself from from her original statement.
But it seems like almost a dare to Obama to re-open the issue, a willingness to drag Obama into an argument over race.
This is not a terrible tactic for the Clinton people. Although Geraldine is a flawed messenger, the message that Obama's racial background is an important part of his appeal is accurate and probably not a great battlefield for Obama - first of all, he is denying the obvious, and secondly, as Mickey Kaus notes the debate is sliding towards an affirmative action train wreck (more from Jonathan Cohn at TNR). (That said, they are attacking her because she is white? How about, they are attacking her because they disagree? Still, the Obama response would probably be different if she were black. Or, since we are tossing hypotheticals about, a talking dog.)
Now, why am I so sure that if Obama were not black his place in history would be different? Well, I am highly confident that, if he had two white parents, he would not have been the first black head of the Harvard Law Review, although given his obvious talent and brains he might well have been yet another quickly-forgotten-if-ever-known white head (Quick, who is current head of the Harvard Review? No, I don't care either...).
And I am quite sure he would not have been offered the role of keynote speaker at the Democratic convention in 2004:
Stephanie Cutter, communications director for the Kerry campaign, explained why the campaign chose Mr. Obama, a former community organizer and Harvard-educated civil rights lawyer: ''We believe he represents the future of the party.''
Mr. Kerry's supporters say they hope the choice will also sway those who have accused Mr. Kerry of failing to include enough minorities in top campaign roles and, more broadly, of failing to excite black voters.
''This represents the Democrats reaching out,'' the Rev. Jesse Jackson said. ''It's important because the destiny of the Democratic Party is tied up, in some sense, in the growth of the minority base.''
And I am quite sure that we wouldn't hear talk about Obama transcending race and healing our nation's racial divides if he were white. Just for example, John Edwards made ending poverty the centerpiece of his campaign, and there are proportionately more impoverished blacks than whites - did anyone talk about Edwards' racial transcendence?
Well, it's a silly argument - one might as well argue that John McCain was lucky he got himself shot down and tortured over Vietnam, since his heroic biography is an important part of his appeal. However, although McCain no doubt looks back on his POW days as character-building in a life-lemons-lemonade way, I suspect that on the whole he'd rather have been in Philadelphia.
And speaking of silly, Ben Smith of the Politico finds a pattern in Ms. Ferraro's remarks:
A Ferraro Flashback
"If Jesse Jackson were not black, he wouldn't be in the race," she said.
Really. The cite is an April 15, 1988 Washington Post story (byline: Howard Kurtz), available only on Nexis.
Please - Mr. Smith provides an extended excerpt for context, and his criticism is self-refuting, since Jesse Jackson himself implicitly agrees:
Discussing the same point in Washington, Jackson said, "We campaigned across the South . . . without a single catcall or boo. It was not until we got North to New York that we began to hear this from Koch, President Reagan and then Mrs. Ferraro . . . . Some people are making hysteria while I'm making history."
OK, just what history was Jesse making - first liberal male to run in a Democratic primary? First liberal to call New York City "hymietown" and then campaign there four years later?
If Barack Obama were a smooth talking white guy with an uplifting personal biography and no discernible resume, he would be John Edwards.
RACE MATTERS: Andrew Sullivan on Barack's appeal:
What does he offer? First and foremost: his face. Think of it as the most effective potential re-branding of the United States since Reagan...
Consider this hypothetical. It’s November 2008. A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man—Barack Hussein Obama—is the new face of America. In one simple image, America’s soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm. A brown-skinned man whose father was an African, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, who attended a majority-Muslim school as a boy, is now the alleged enemy. If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama’s face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can.
Hmm. "[R]atcheted up.. a logarithm"? troubled me enough to Google it, leading me to good company. At least he avoided "quantum leap" (I am reluctant to explain...).
And what about "who attended a majority-Muslim school as a boy" - should we forward those emails to the Middle East? And when they discover he abandoned his father's boyhood religion, what then?
DISINGENUITY WATCH: We could do this all day, but let's start with Josh Marshall:
Can anyone seriously claim that it's an asset to be an African-American in a US presidential race? Happily what we're now seeing is that it does not in itself seem to be an eliminating factor in a presidential race. But an advantage?...
You might support Obama or not, think he's qualified or an empty suit but suggesting he's only where he is now because he's black is something much worse than outrageous. It just seems obviously false.
"Only where he is now because he is black"? Who said that? C'mon, a 47 year old white guy with Obama's non-resume would not be a front-running Presidential candidate, notwithstanding the fact that John Edwards hung around as the "Anybody But Kerry" candidate for a while in 2004.
And who said, per Marshall's introductory strawman, that being black is an unalloyed asset in a Presidential campaign? I have no doubt that on balance, for most candidates, it would be a hindrance. So what? Ms. Ferraro was talking about Obama and noted that "the country is caught up in the concept"; to pretend otherwise is Marshallian.
Let's flash back to 2004, as a younger and more race-conscious Josh Marshall anticipated Barack's keynote address to the Dem convention:
In any case, he'll be the only black man in the Senate; and he'll have a relatively safe seat, as senate seats go. He'll be an instant star of his party.
The only black man and an instant star - odd that Josh made the connection back then.
LET'S HEAR IT FROM THE MAN: Obama himself, seeking the endorsement of a Houston newspaper:
In a conference call, Obama told the Chronicle editorial board that "more than any other candidate, I can bridge some of the partisan as well as racial and religious divides that have developed in this country that prevent us from getting things done."
So he mentions racial reconciliation right after partisan reconciliation. And what makes him more qualified than Hillary to heal our racial wounds?
How does this work - his being black is only mentionable, and only an advantage, when he brings it up?