In what has to be one of the most blunt preemptive political statements ever, Democratic presumptive nominee Barack Obama has warned supporters at a fund raiser about a rough campaign to come where he fully GOPers to play the race card:
“It is going to be very difficult for Republicans to run on their stewardship of the economy or their outstanding foreign policy,” Obama told a fundraiser in Jacksonville, Florida. “We know what kind of campaign they’re going to run. They’re going to try to make you afraid.
“They’re going to try to make you afraid of me. He’s young and inexperienced and he’s got a funny name. And did I mention he’s black?”
Of course, the reality is that if it’s done it won’t be done as crassly as that.
It’ll be done via images and code words. Remember the (in)famous photo of Obama in African garb? It was the best of both worlds for demonizers: it was suggested he looked like a Muslim but it turned out and reported it was African dress.
But NOTE this: So far in campaign 2008 the controversies about playing the race card have involved Democrats. Senator Hillary Clinton’s campaign was accused of raising the race issue in a subtle way…and then in some not so subtle ways: her husband Bill Clinton was widely condemned for some comments he made and Clinton herself was denounced by many for talking about her support from hard-working white voters.
And the African garb photo? It turned out it was given to the Drudge Report — the website that has launched dozens of (sometime planted) political controversies — by a Clinton staffer. Some Clinton supporters not officially connected with the campaign have also been the most adamant about the existence of the Michelle Obama “whitey” tape which most now believe does not exist and they are seemingly the most eager to get it on the web.
Is Obama just being politically crafty or paranoid or both? Perhaps entirely not. This week it became evident that the McCain campaign was using a lot of Hillary Clinton’s old attack lines on him. The GOP is using what worked against Obama in the primaries. If some even freelancing GOPers think the Clinton campaigns alleged race card use worked (and the Clintonistas deny they were ever raising the race issue) the “issue” could surface again.
If the race card is played, it would be done in a way so there would be plausible deniability so if the issue is raised whoever is accused of using racist tactics could say: “That isn’t what we said or suggested. You’re now raising the race card! You’re paranoid! You’re PC!” But a visitor from Mars and the vast majority of Americans will know the message has been thrown out there if it’s thrown out there and so will the old and new media.
The question: how will Obama confront it, if it happens? And if the card is indeed played, can it boomerang?
Obama also added this:
He said he was also set for Republicans to say “he’s got a feisty wife,” in trying to attack his wife Michelle.
“We know the strategy because they’ve already shown their cards. Ultimately I think the American people recognize that old stuff hasn’t moved us forward. That old stuff just divides us,” he said.
But that’s not the issue. Even those who use these tactics know it is divisive. The fact is: divisive tactics work and they’re part of existing American political culture. Is the Obama campaign ready to respond if the politics of division is played big-time this campaign season?