When an unimpeachably liberal former vice-presidential candidate of the Democratic Party is likened to David Duke by a liberal media hero, the political apocalypse -- or at least a grievance-politics cataclysm -- is upon us.
In one of his sputtering-mad "special comments" usually devoted to damning President Bush to hell, Keith Olbermann of MSNBC accused Geraldine Ferraro of employing the "vocabulary of David Duke," and of "insidious racism that is at least two decades old." Back in the glory days of liberaldom, this would have been like Edward R. Murrow calling Eleanor Roosevelt a fascist -- in other words, utter madness.
The Democrats are famous for forming circular firing squads. But apparently the real gunplay doesn't begin until every member of the firing squad thinks he or she has been the victim of racism or sexism. Then, the smell of gun smoke is mingled with self-pitying and overwrought accusations of race or gender bias.
Ferraro had to quit her role on the finance committee in the Clinton campaign for stating the obvious, that Barack Obama wouldn't be in a leading position in the race if he "were a white man." Clearly, his campaign is "making history" because he's an African-American. White senators have run for, and even won, the presidency before. Indeed, a bevy of them briefly challenged Obama in this campaign, before dropping away under the weight of their own un-historic dullness.
The unhinged trajectory of the Democratic race became clear when Bill Clinton got himself accused of racism well before he did any verifiable race-baiting. In New Hampshire, he called the notion that Obama had consistently opposed the Iraq War "a fairy tale," a race-neutral charge that black Democrats nonetheless declared offensive.
On it goes: Harvard professor Orlando Patterson took to the pages of The New York Times to declare Hillary's famous 3 a.m. ad reminiscent of D.W. Griffith's Klan-epic "Birth of a Nation." Because the sleeping child that the ad focuses on is blond and the others are "vaguely Latino," the ad must be suggesting that the kids are about to be attacked by a black man. Only if one of the kids were black could the ad have been saved from this taint (although presumably still open to question -- Why only one black kid? And why does the blond get so much more airtime?).
When Ferraro noted in the midst of her imbroglio, "Every time somebody says something about the [Obama] campaign, you're accused of being racist," she sounded surprised. As if she's unaware that her ideological compatriots have long played the race card against conservatives at the slightest instigation.
That the race card outranks the gender card has to be galling to Hillary's feminist supporters, giving some of Ferraro's comments their splenetic edge. The left has long had a holy trinity of class, gender and race. As a woman candidate who appeals to lower-income voters, Hillary is two-for-three in the sacrosanct categories of grievance, but race is the holy of holies.
Clinton's campaign and its supporters can cry sexism when she is sharply questioned in debates and loses the Iowa caucus, but it won't have the same resonance as the charges of racism hurled at them, leaving the likes of Gloria Steinem to rue that "the sex barrier [is] not taken as seriously as the racial one." Even as victims, women are second-class citizens.
Why can't the two sides tone down the victimological grudge match? Because charging bias has become a convenient political tool and an ingrained habit of mind. Nothing puts an adversary on the defensive like allegations of sexism or racism, so Obama and Clinton supporters naturally resort to them. And the left has cultivated a deeply paranoid worldview that sees everything through the prism of identity politics and assumes malign motives on the part of anyone not the "correct" gender or race.
The Obama-Clinton contest is merely an intramural warm-up. If a trail-blazing Democrat like Ferraro can get chewed up, just wait to see what happens to Republicans in the fall. The oversensitivity, and divisiveness, has just begun.