Transfixed by the two-candidate "horse race," maybe we didn't focus precisely on what happened in the home stretch of the last Democratic debate when Barack Obama tried to pick and nuance his way through a straight-ahead question from MSNBC's Tim Russert.
Q: Do you accept the support of Louis Farrakhan?
The question arose because the longtime racist and anti-Semitic leader of the racist and anti-Semitic Nation of Islam had delivered a two-hour speech devoted mainly to praising Obama's candidacy.
Here is Obama's answer: "You know, I have been very clear in my denunciation of Minister Farrakhan's anti-Semitic comments. I think they are unacceptable and reprehensible. I did not solicit this support. He expressed pride in an African-American who seems to be bringing the country together. I obviously can't censor him, but it is not support that I sought. And we're not doing anything, I assure you, formally or informally, with Minister Farrakhan."
"Minister" Farrakhan? The honorific seems unduly deferential applied to a demagogue who, just to recall a few pearls of his noxiousness, has labeled Judaism a "gutter religion," said "the white man" is "the anti-Christ," and suggested the post-Katrina failure of the New Orleans levees was a "white" plot to flood "black" neighborhoods. But what is most important here is to note Obama's failure to take a stand on Farrakhan support: "I obviously can't censor him" -- whether Obama could censor him wasn't the question -- "but it is not support I sought."
Kind of tepid, no? Russert tried again.
Q: Do you reject his support?
Here is Obama's second answer. "Well, Tim, you know, I can't say to somebody that he can't say that he thinks I'm a good guy." (This, of course, was just another way of saying Obama couldn't censor Farrakhan.) The presidential candidate continued: "You know, I -- you know, I -- I have been very clear in my denunciations of him and his past statements, and I think that indicates to the American people what my stance is on those comments."
Again, Russert hadn't asked Obama about "his stance" on "those comments." The question was about Farrakhan as a package deal. Did Obama accept his support? Did Obama reject his support?
So far, no answer. And this was incredible. Before a national audience, Obama, whose very candidacy has come to symbolize a promise of "post-racial" "unity" in America, failed to reject the support of arguably the most racist and divisive figure in America.
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