Commentary Magazine


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What Campaign Are They Watching?

As Abe has pointed out, there is no shortage of pundits ready to regale us with tales of Barack Obama’s calm, serenity, and superior temperament. We are told that “there hasn’t been a moment when he has displayed rage, resentment, fear, anxiety, bitterness, tears, ecstasy, self-pity or impulsiveness.” Huh? Have they been following this campaign? The infatuated punditocracy is leaving out one big, glaring exception: Obama’s reflexive, continual, and shameful tendency to play the race card.

It came up at the final debate, when he repeated the discredited allegation that errant supporters at a McCain-Palin rally shouted death threats about Obama. Charles Krauthammer reviews the dismal record of Obama and his supporters who resort to racial victimhood whenever The One has been criticized, noting:

In the name of racial rectitude, McCain has denied himself the use of that perfectly legitimate issue. It is simply Orwellian for him to be now so widely vilified as a stoker of racism. What makes it doubly Orwellian is that these charges are being made on behalf of the one presidential candidate who has repeatedly, and indeed quite brilliantly, deployed the race card.

How brilliantly? The reason Bill Clinton is sulking in his tent is because he feels that Obama surrogates succeeded in painting him as a racist. Clinton has many sins, but from his student days to his post-presidency, his commitment and sincerity in advancing the cause of African-Americans have been undeniable. If the man Toni Morrison called the first black president can be turned into a closet racist, then anyone can.

And Obama has shown no hesitation in doing so to McCain. Just weeks ago, in Springfield, Mo., and elsewhere, he warned darkly that George Bush and John McCain were going to try to frighten you by saying that, among other scary things, Obama has “a funny name” and “doesn’t look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills.”

McCain has never said that, nor anything like that. When asked at the time to produce one instance of McCain deploying race, the Obama campaign could not. Yet here was Obama firing a pre-emptive charge of racism against a man who had not indulged in it. An extraordinary rhetorical feat, and a dishonorable one.

What makes this all the more dismaying is that it comes from Barack Obama, who has consistently presented himself as a healer, a man of a new generation above and beyond race, the man who would turn the page on the guilt-tripping grievance politics of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.

Perhaps the bigotry of low expectations is at work here. One doesn’t expect any candidate to show “rage.” But as peevish, bitter, and self-pitying performances go, Obama’s ranks right up there.

It may be that stoicism and emotional restraint have been under-appreciated presidential qualities. Maybe we will discover the Zen-like benefits of inactivity, but all this strikes me as a strained effort to concoct a rationale — “temperament” — which sets Obama apart from his opponent. Certainly it is not a record of accomplishment or blazing originality in policy development.

But the Obamaphiles should at least be honest: his temperament is one which relies on deceit. And the result is a candidate who lacks the ability to recognize, absorb, and manage reasonable criticism. If he wins, we’ll see if that’s such a great emotional make-up for the presidency.