Last week Barack Obama did the unthinkable – he played the race card. In an unusually clumsy attempt to pre-empt the onslaught of McCain’s increasing negative campaign, Senator Obama made a huge mistake. Reacting to the Paris Hilton and Brittany Spears ad and the “Messiah” ad, which depicts Obama as an “anti-Christ figure,” he spoke out against the fear tactics he believes McCain and the GOP will use against him. His mistake was that he made himself sound weak by inferring that attacking his race would be a part of the fear campaign of the Right.
Last Friday, Laura Ingram, guest host for Bill O’Reilly, asked me why the senator would resort to such measures. My answer was that I believe he was planning to use the race card all along. The senator had no doubt braced himself for the return of Jeremiah Wright sound bites and stinging criticism by his opponents in the last 30 to 45 days of the contest.
In the Obama campaign’s mind, McCain would use race as one of several factors that would lead voters to conclude that Barack could not be trusted. Unfortunately for him, Obama miscalculated when to play the card. This tactic only works when your opponent is seen as a bully. In fact, the last thing Obama wants to do is to make race the defining aspect of his candidacy. Throughout his campaign he has presented himself as a post racial candidate, but the reality may be that he has used a sophisticated form of political jujitsu. Jujitsu often uses the strength and force of an opponent’s attacks against them.
This is just what he did in his contests against Hillary Clinton. He cried, “Victim!” when he was “attacked” by Bill and Hillary Clinton. The “fairy tale” comments by Bill were taken out of context, blown out of proportion, becoming the genesis of criticism that the Clintons had stooped to the lowest point in their political history. As things progressed, it was weeks before Hillary could lay a hand on Obama in terms of substantive discussion of legitimate policy differences between the two candidates. In the case of the Clinton debacle, Obama seemed to rise above the fray, but his race may have actually given him an unfair advantage. His campaign surrogates and the media pointed the finger of accusation at the Clintons, as Senator Obama simply sidestepped their criticism.
Last week, the Senator was no doubt pressured by the mixed reviews he received from his overseas visit and speaking tour. With his lead in the polls slipping, he no doubt felt the weight to immediately respond to McCain’s negative attacks. He dared not look vacillating and weak like John Kerry. In addition, he must have felt that he had to maintain a lead in the polls until the Democratic National Convention.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.