John Kass

It was disappointing the other day to see President Barack Obama embracing the vulgar race hustler Al Sharpton.

President Obama once eloquently confronted race in a memorable speech in Philadelphia in 2008. That speech was remarkable and honest and, to borrow a favorite word of the political left that still fawns over him, it was nuanced.

But there was nothing particularly remarkable about Obama standing next to the preening Sharpton, speaking in New York to his National Action Network. Except that Obama expertly used a message of victimization to begin energizing black voters, who provide the electoral foundation for the Democratic Party.

This wasn't about nuance. This was about the class-war elections of November 2014.

"The right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since nearly five decades ago," Obama said, reaching back across time.

He didn't quite touch Jim Crow and the poll tax and the civil rights struggles, but he didn't have to. There were the broad presidential hints and they did the job.

"Across the country, Republicans have led efforts to pass laws making it harder, not easier, for people to vote," Obama said, adding, "We won't let voter suppression go unchallenged."

Are Republicans oppressing black voters with a series of state voter identification laws that have been upheld by the Supreme Court?

The Democrats suggest as much. But I'm not so sure.

As a gun owner in Illinois, I am required to have a photo on my firearms owner's identification card. And I'm required to do so even though the right to bear arms is protected under the Second Amendment.

So why shouldn't other rights be subject to the same modern Democratic standards?

Activating a party's base voters can be an ugly business. Democrats use class, race or gender. Republicans have equal mastery in these dark arts. They often use appeal to patriotism as cover for foreign military adventures that cost American lives and treasure. And when they use phrases like "free enterprise," the words don't even curdle in their mouths. The establishment Republican mouthpieces aren't offended by their own insider deals and corporate welfare.

But political hypocrites notwithstanding, some ideals do survive in America, including the struggle to overcome racism and reward people based on hard work and merit.

That's why it was so disappointing to see Obama with Sharpton, standing behind a lectern bearing the presidential seal. They don't even seem like they're from the same planet. And once, Obama wouldn't have fawned over Sharpton or played this game with him.