Salena Zito

When it comes to racial issues, the 2008 Democrat primary has been lowered to the most politically correct campaign in history. So low that it has smudged the lens in the way we look at both of the Democrats’ candidates.

Political correctness or “PC” -- a clothesline tool typically used as a wedge issue against Republicans -- has backfired. To steal a phrase from the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, PC is “coming home to roost” for Democrats.

Purdue University political science professor Bert Rockman says we need to thicken our skins when it comes to race.

“Why did anybody take umbrage at Bill Clinton's remark about Jesse Jackson in South Carolina when it was patently correct?” he asks. Everyone knows that blacks are voting heavily for Barack Obama, he explains, and only a moron would be surprised.

Because of PC, race is the elephant in the room that no one is supposed to talk about, except to remark on how enlightening it is for America to have a black candidate for president.

Fair enough: That is a huge story. But at some point the lens should focus past Obama’s oratorical skills and his skin color to see who this man is who wants to lead our country.

Obama is black by heritage but also a product of liberal elitism, which appears to drive his thinking: Poor kid from single-parent home gets access to the best schools, the best opportunities, and is groomed for greatness.

Nothing wrong with that. Jack Kennedy’s father groomed eldest son Joe for the presidency and, when tragedy struck, turned his attention to Jack. That’s the American way.

That same “American way” led a young Obama to move to Chicago to become a community organizer and to join the church he chose -- to groom his political career. It is why he enlisted David Axelrod, strategist to the Chicago Democrat machine of Mayor Richard Daley, to handle his campaign; his bid for a U.S. Senate seat under machine-politics tutelage was won without any real challenge.

Political grooming also is why John Kerry picked Obama to give a keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

To Obama's credit, he has met and exceeded expectations, has delivered in every sense of the word. However, his thinking hovers on liberal elite. That is why his comment in San Francisco about embittered Middle America was so revealing about who and what he is. Yet because of race, his political veneer was not scratched.

In ideology, is he different from Mike Dukakis, John Kerry, Al Gore or George McGovern? Probably not. He just looks really cool saying the kind of things once said by those four men who lost the presidency for the Democrats.

And why did they lose? In large part, because of a lack of connection with bread-and-butter Democrats.

Love him or hate him, give Bill Clinton his due: He fought for the presidency against all odds, from a small white Southern town; when he won, he delivered without ever embracing liberal elitism.

That is part of the price Hillary Clinton is paying in this primary: The party’s liberal-elite side resents Bill’s performance, especially his move to the right after winning the White House but then losing Congress in 1994.

Clinton did it to survive. But Kerry, Gore or even George W. Bush would never have compromised that way, because their elite upbringing does not allow them to think that way.

Compare this with two modern presidents who are widely remembered and admired: William Jefferson Clinton and Ronald Wilson Reagan.

Neither came from or had access to the elite system, though at times they brushed against it; when push came to shove, they rejected it for their own survival. Both deeply wanted people to like them because of their upbringings -- both came from poor families in small-town America with abusive, alcoholic fathers.

Democrats will be successful in November only if they pick a candidate who mirrors the successful tickets that won the 2006 midterm elections -- candidates who connected with average Americans.

If the candidate who emerges from this primary season echoes the liberal elitism of McGovern, Dukakis, Gore and Kerry, then Democrats should start bracing for a losing year, one they should have easily won.


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.