Rich Lowry

Jesse Jackson must have been forgiven by the Obama campaign and welcomed into its inner circle. Because it sure seems as if he's giving the campaign advice.

Responding to a McCain ad knocking him as a world celebrity, Barack Obama essentially accused the McCain campaign of race-baiting. It was a hair-trigger resort to the charge of racism of the sort that Jackson built a career on, making himself radioactive and anathema to the political center.

In 24 hours, Obama had lurched his carefully crafted brand in Jackson's direction. And for what?

The McCain ad intersperses footage of Obama's massive political rally in Germany with images of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton before asking "is he ready to lead?" It's rare that a political candidate is criticized for being too popular, but that's the import of the ad, and its inclusion of Spears and Hilton has been called even by McCain sympathizers "stupid," "childish" and "juvenile."

But the McCain ad had a serious point, one the Obama campaign obviously felt it couldn't ignore. Obama can be as arrogant, gassy and remote as other members of the country's aristocracy of fame. If this celebrity framework is successfully imposed on Obama, the entire repertoire of Obamania -- the mass rallies, the soaring eloquence, the picturesque cool of the candidate himself -- risks becoming a liability.

In a statement Obama repeated three times, he said what George Bush and John McCain are "going to try to do is make you scared of me. You know, he's not patriotic enough. He's got a funny name. You know, he doesn't look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills." Translation: Bush and McCain are going to go all Bull Connor on me.

Neither has done any such thing, of course. McCain has distanced himself from attacks with the remotest hint of racial undertones. When a talk-radio host mentioned Obama's middle name several times in the course of an introduction of McCain at a rally, McCain roundly denounced him. When the North Carolina Republican Party ran an -- entirely aboveboard -- ad linking Obama with his longtime pastor Jeremiah Wright, McCain loudly objected. Obama's charge is a flat-out smear.

Rich Lowry

Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years .
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