Scary times on the new ‘third rail’

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics -

It’s a lit­tle early to play the race card, but the Obama par­ti­sans, if not Barack Obama him­self, are scared. They don’t know what else to do to get their ex­pec­ta­tions, so care­fully nur­tured over spring and sum­mer, in line with re­al­ity. The main­stream me­dia’s gang­ing up on a preg­nant 17year-old girl didn’t work. Nei­ther did the can­di­date’s call­ing her mother a pig.

Af­ter Mr. Obama be­came the in­evitable pres­i­dent, dis­patch­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton, the in­evitable nom­i­nee, his cult thought it was go­ing to be a down­hill coast to a left turn into Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue. Alas, the slam dunk — the fa­vorite metaphor of mid­sum­mer — now looks more like a lost ball. Sud­denly it’s all el­bows and rim shots. The pol­i­tics of hope has been re­duced to the pol­i­tics of merely hope­ful.

He sent his wife out to warn vot­ers not to vote for some­one just be­cause she’s “cute,” and when that got a harsh look from one of her han­dlers she quickly added that she was talk­ing about her­self. Michelle is cute enough, but she’s not run­ning for any­thing, so far as any­one knows. (Maybe in France.) Joe Bi­den, the Demo­cratic dream can­di­date for nearly two full days in Den­ver, is stum­bling like ev­ery­body thought he would. He told a rally on Sept. 18 that higher taxes are com­ing and pay­ing them is a “pa­tri­otic” duty. Just shut up and pay up.

The small but steady Obama lead in the polls, hav­ing evap­o­rated in the wake of the two con­ven­tions, is enough to scare con­fi­dent Democrats. The bet­ting odds fa­vor­ing Mr. Obama were off the board only a month ago; now those odds are es­sen­tially even. John McCain, mov­ing up to a tie or even go­ing ahead by a point or two in overnight tracking polls, has moved out front in the race for elec­toral votes, as mea­sured in the state-bys­tate polling.

If all that were not enough bad news, John McCain and the un­re­li­able Repub­li­cans just won’t raise the race is­sue. Heavy-handed though some of the McCain rhetoric and tele- vi­sion com­mer­cials about the le­git­i­mate is­sues may be, the Repub­li­cans and their friends have stayed apart from any­thing sug­gest­ing race, un­der­stand­ing that race has re­placed So­cial Se­cu­rity as the deadly “third rail” of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, some­thing for ev­ery­body to think about but not for any­body to talk about ex­cept in empty plat­i­tudes. Goad­ing John McCain’s friends, if not the se­na­tor him­self, to talk about race, so the Obama boodlers and bundlers reckon, would in­oc­u­late him against hav­ing to an­swer em­bar­rass­ing ques­tions about who he has been hang­ing out with over the past two decades and pre­vent crit­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion of his Se­nate record (if any­one could find it). When the cam­paign moved through Septem­ber, sum­mer waned, and no­body in the McCain camp showed signs of cry­ing race, some­one else had to do it.

When some­one asked Gov. Kath­leen Se­be­lius, the Demo­cratic gov­er­nor of Kansas, why Mr. Obama can’t seem to achieve take-off speed, she stepped up to put a match to the kin­dling. “Have any of you no­ticed that Barack Obama is part African-Amer­i­can?” she asked. “That may be a fac­tor. All the code lan­guage, all that doesn’t show up in the polls. And that may be a fac­tor for some peo­ple.”

Out in the down-bal­lot fly-over coun­try, where the Obama magic is dis­si­pat­ing in the lo­cal leg­isla­tive races, sub­tlety rarely has to be a virtue. “Race, that’s the only rea­son peo­ple in the Val­ley won’t vote for him,” says state Rep. Thomas Letson, who thought he had a lock on re-elec­tion to the Ohio leg­is­la­ture and now thinks maybe he doesn’t. “There are a thou­sand rea­sons to vote for Obama and one rea­son why you won’t. Race.”

An­other rat­tled Ohio in­cum­bent, state Rep. Robert Ha­gan, told the Youngstown Vindicator that it’s the in­de­pen­dents, on whom the politi­cians de­pend to res­cue them from close en­coun­ters of the scari­est kind, who are the racists.

That might not be a death rat­tle in the throats of Democrats, but it sounds like some­thing more than throat-clear­ing. Mr. Obama told a rally in Las Ve­gas that his sup­port­ers have to “get in the faces of Repub­li­cans,” pre­sum­ably to say and do things “the tran­scen­dent One” never would. He’s con­cerned, per­haps rightly, about the ten­dency of vot­ers to tell poll­sters they’ll vote for a black can­di­date when they ac­tu­ally won’t, lest they be re­garded as racists. No­body puts a num­ber on it, though one Demo­cratic poll­ster says “un­less Obama has a five-point polling lead on Elec­tion Day he’s toast.” That’s scary, and it’s not yet Hal­loween.

Michelle Obama

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