The columnist Michael Kinsley once defined a "gaffe" as an occasion when a politician accidentally tells the truth. In our age of political correctness, some would place Geraldine Ferraro's remarks into this category. Long known for speaking candidly, Ferraro recently remarked that "if Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position."
There's a molecule of truth in this. Obama's appeal is that he is an African American who doesn't sound one bit like Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton. Blacks are inspired to see one of their own have a serious shot at the presidency. Whites are relieved that Obama doesn't seem to be motivated by the kind of chronic resentment that seems all too prevalent in black America.
Taken this way, Ferraro is stating the obvious. It's equally obvious, by the way, that if Hillary was male--and not married to Bill Clinton--she wouldn't be in her position. Hillary came to national prominence not through her own efforts but through the success of her husband. Virtually all her "experience" prior to being elected Senator is in fact Bill Clinton's experience. She wouldn't even have been elected to the Senate without Bill. So she too owes a great deal to her gender and her "first wife" position.
In a deeper sense, though, Ferraro's insinuation is completely wrong. In reality Obama's political success is due to far more than race. He brings some unique and very attractive qualities at a time when the country wants and needs them. Obama is a man of unquestionable intelligence and grace, and this is why the affirmative action label seems especially unjust when applied to him.
To me Ferraro's comments illustrate two things. First, they show the depths to which Hillary flacks are willing to go. It's typical of the Hillary camp that a sidekick like Ferraro attempts to plunge the knife into Obama while Hillary feigns ignorance and plays nice. Second, Ferraro's attack illustrates how some prominent liberals deep down think that all blacks are only capable of advancing because they are black.
In a way liberal support for racial preferences can be understood as an attempt to cope with this situation. We often hear liberal activists say, "If it wasn't for affirmative action there would be virtually no blacks in top universities." The implication of course is that blacks on their own merits are incapable of getting into Harvard and Berkeley.