Degrading His Brand

Posted: Jul 31, 2008 9:51 PM
Amanda blogged earlier today about Barack Obama's playing of the race card.

Maybe Barack did it because he's getting nervous.  After all, he's still running neck-and-neck with John McCain, even after pulling out all the stops on his foreign "getting to know you" tour.  Maybe he's just trying to find a way to change a press narrative that's focusing more and more on egObamamania, and hopes to win the press back over to his side by eliciting its indignation towad McCain.

But invoking does seem to be an emerging pattern for Barack when he feels under political pressure.  As I pointed out at the time, when he was trying to get past the Jeremiah Wright debacle, he did so by making a speech designed to turn the conversation from Wright to race.

But just as that was a dumb strategic move at the time, it's a dumb strategic move now -- and for the same reason.  The quality that made Barack Obama so uniquely appealing at the outset certainly wasn't his far-left policies.  Nor his supposed rock star cool, or his wholesome family.    Instead, it was the hope he offered of allowing our country to transcend the racial divisions that pain Americans of all colors.

Every time he plays the race card, it's not just that he sounds like a whiner.  Worst of all, he degrades his brand, and undermines one of the most compelling rationales for the presidential candidacy of a first-term senator with few legislative achievements and little national experience.  He ends up presenting himself as a candidate more in the mold of a Sharpton/Jackson than a Powell.  And in doing so, he turns off precisely the moderates and independents he will need to win.

Almost exactly four years ago today, as Barack prepared to make his first national speech as a newcomer at the Democratic National Convention just a few months before his election to the US Senate, I wrote this about him

Obama will resist the temptation to attract the kind of polarizing, Jesse Jackson-like attention that ultimately results in marginalization. Choosing a centrist course and defending it offers Obama the opportunity to become the Colin Powell of the Democratic Party – and with it, the chance to become the first African-American Democratic political leader who transcends race altogether.

It will be interesting to see whether some combination of political panic, bitterness or failed strategy prevents him from living up to that promise.