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    March 12, 2008

    Obama on Ferraro and race

    Posted by: Chris

    Obamamike Barack Obama's remarks today in response to Geraldine Ferraro "threaded a careful needle," as Ben Smith put it, and got it exactly right as far as I'm concerned.

    First, he rejected in strong terms her claim that Obama is "lucky" that he's black because he wouldn't have been successful as a presidential candidate otherwise:

    I don’t think that Geraldine Ferraro’s comments have any place in our politics or the Democratic Party. I think that anybody who understands the history of this country knows they are patently absurd. I would expect that the same way those comments don’t have a place in my campaign, they shouldn’t have a place in Sen. Clinton’s.

    Ferraro's upside-down logic is as ridiculous as Gloria Steinem's similar delusion, when the feminist icon claimed Hillary Clinton's gender was a greater obstacle to her candidacy than Barack Obama's race was to his. Keep in mind that there've been only five black U.S. senators or governors since Reconstruction. By contrast, there have been 35 female U.S. senators and 29 female governors.

    And even though Ferraro has complained repeatedly, including tonight on the "NBC Nightly News" that  the Obama campaign has called her a racist, Obama expressly refused to go there at a press conference:

    He said Ferraro's remarks had been "ridiculous" and "divisive," but he also described his own wariness about allegations. … "I don't like to throw out words like 'racist,'" Obama said. "I would defy anybody to look though the rhetoric for the last year-and-a-half or the last year and a couple months to find one instance in which I have said some criticism of me was racially based."

    Of course Ferraro is not a racist, but she is playing that favorite game of identity politics -- my demographic burden is heavier than yours -- and her claim happens to be patently ridiculous when applied to a black man named Barack Obama running for president.

    The only explanation of Ferraro's comments that I've heard that rings truer for me came from Chris Matthews, who argued on MSNBC's "Hardball" that she really meant that the central thread of Obama's appeal is that he can, as a black politician, transcend racial politics in a way that a white politician could not.

    Also on that program, Pat Buchanan (of all people) noted that a lot of white voters feel a greater excitement voting for Obama because they feel like they're doing some constructive to put the nation's bitter racial history behind us.

    Those are both valid observations about how Obama's race has played an important role in his overall appeal to "a new politics" of unity rather than division. They're also very different than what Ferraro said, even before she started playing racial victim herself as she dug her hole deeper and deeper.

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