Barack Obama has a chance of being the first black president. And holding out that special hope has been crucial to his candidacy. To deny this is self-delusion -- or deceit.
Nor is this unusual. John F. Kennedy would not have gotten 78 percent of the Catholic vote had he not been Catholic. Hillary would not have rolled up those margins among white women in New Hampshire had she not been a sister in trouble. Mitt Romney would not have swept Utah and flamed out in Dixie were he not a Mormon. Mike Huckabee would not have marched triumphantly through the Bible Belt were he not a Baptist preacher and evangelical Christian. All politics is tribal.
The first campaign this writer ever covered was the New York mayoral race of 1961. Republicans stitched together the legendary ticket of Lefkowitz, Fino and Gilhooley, to touch three ethnic bases. Folks laughed. No one would have professed moral outrage had anyone suggested they were appealing to, or even pandering to, the Jewish, Italian and Irish voters of New York. People were more honest then.
Obama's agents suggest that Ferraro deliberately injected race into the campaign. But this, too, is ridiculous. Her quote came in an interview with the Daily Breeze of Torrance, Calif., not "Meet the Press."
The attack on Ferraro comes out of a conscious strategy of the Obama campaign -- to seek immunity from attack by smearing any and all attackers as having racist motives. When Bill Clinton dismissed Obama's claim to have been consistently antiwar as a "fairy tale," and twinned Obama's victory in South Carolina with Jesse Jackson's, his statements were described as tinged with racism.
Early this week, Harvard Professor Orlando Patterson's sensitive nostrils sniffed out racism in Hillary's Red Phone ad, as there were no blacks in it. Patterson said it reminded him of D.W. Griffith's pro-KKK "Birth of a Nation," a 1915 film.
What Barack's allies seem to be demanding is immunity, a special exemption from political attack, because he is African-American. And those who go after him are to be brought up on charges of racism, as has Bill Clinton, Ed Rendell and now Geraldine Ferraro.
Hillary, hoping to appease Barack's constituency, is ceding the point. Will the Republican Party and the right do the same? Play by Obama rules, and you lose to Obama.
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