In the name of racial rectitude, McCain has denied himself the use of that perfectly legitimate issue. It is simply Orwellian for him to be now so widely vilified as a stoker of racism. What makes it doubly Orwellian is that these charges are being made on behalf of the one presidential candidate who has repeatedly, and indeed quite brilliantly, deployed the race card.
How brilliantly? The reason Bill Clinton is sulking in his tent is because he feels that Obama surrogates succeeded in painting him as a racist. Clinton has many sins, but from his student days to his post-presidency, his commitment and sincerity in advancing the cause of African-Americans have been undeniable. If the man Toni Morrison called the first black president can be turned into a closet racist, then anyone can.
And Obama has shown no hesitation in doing so to McCain. Just weeks ago, in Springfield, Mo., and elsewhere, he warned darkly that George Bush and John McCain were going to try to frighten you by saying that, among other scary things, Obama has "a funny name" and "doesn't look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills."
McCain has never said that, nor anything like that. When asked at the time to produce one instance of McCain deploying race, the Obama campaign could not. Yet here was Obama firing a pre-emptive charge of racism against a man who had not indulged in it. An extraordinary rhetorical feat, and a dishonorable one.
What makes this all the more dismaying is that it comes from Barack Obama, who has consistently presented himself as a healer, a man of a new generation above and beyond race, the man who would turn the page on the guilt-tripping grievance politics of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.
I once believed him.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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