The candidacy of Barack Obama makes race impossible to ignore, obviously. But what about when Republican Mike Huckabee comes to town and gratuitously starts talking about the Confederate flag? What does that mean?
It means that Huckabee -- smart, charming, witty though he may be -- is pandering to an audience that understands that states' rights is code for keeping blacks in their place. This is race-baiting with a wink and a nod, as well as a calculated attempt to steal some of John McCain's thunder.
McCain was confronted with the flag question in 2000: Should a symbol of racist hatred, albeit only for some, wave over a building that belongs to all? The polite and true answer is a simple "no," but back then McCain took the states' rights option. He later said he regretted his answer and believed the flag should come down.
The flag is down, though it is more noticeable now on the statehouse grounds than it was atop the dome. Yet here it comes again, compliments of Huckabee, who recited the litany without cue cards for his Myrtle Beach audience:
"You don't like people from outside the state coming in and telling you what to do with your flag. ... If somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we'd tell 'em what to do with the pole. That's what we'd do."
Applause, applause, applause. Scribble, scribble, scribble. Yawn, yawn, yawn.
In 2003, when Howard Dean lamented that the South had to stop obsessing about on race, guns, God and gays, he wasn't necessarily wrong. But it is once again clear that the pols and pundits will have to go first.