Obama and the Elephant

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Why doesn’t Obama hit back harder? This is why, writes our colleague Michael Grunwald:

Race is the elephant in the room of the 2008 campaign. In West Virginia’s primary, one of every four Hillary Clinton voters actually admitted to pollsters that race was a factor in their vote; that may be an Appalachian outlier, but even in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio the figure was a troubling one in ten. It’s a tribute to America’s racial progress that a biracial man born before Jim Crow died could come this close to the presidency, but if you believe that contemporary America is color-blind, you probably believe the Georgia congressman who recently called Obama “uppity,” then claimed he had no idea it was a traditional Southern slur for blacks who didn’t know their place. (“Uppity” often modified the slur everyone knows is a slur.) Blacks are still known as “minorities” because this is still a majority white country, and Obama is just as anxious to avoid running as “the black candidate” as McCain is anxious to avoid running as “the Republican candidate.”

This is something to keep in mind now that the Thomas Friedmans and Arianna Huffingtons of the world are imploring Obama to get angry, to shed his above-the-fray cool and fight back against the McCain campaign’s silly-season accusations that he’s a charismatic chauvinist who wants to teach kindergarteners how to have sex. Over the last 18 months, Obama has been attacked as a naive novice, an empty suit, a tax-and-spend liberal, an arugula-grazing elitist and a corrupt ward heeler, but the only attacks that clearly stung him involved the Rev. Jeremiah Wright — attacks that portrayed him as an angry black man under the influence of an even angrier black man.

UPDATE: In a piece on this subject in the New York Review of Books, political scientist Andrew Hacker goes so far as to propose this:

Michael Tomasky has said that to win, Barack Obama “will need to build multiracial coalitions.” What seems more needed, in my view, are two parallel campaigns: a quiet one to assure a maximum black turnout, and a more public one to make the most of the white backing the Obama-Biden ticket already has. His rallies, appearances, and advertisements would benefit from featuring white faces, and they should be accompanied by endorsements from white military veterans, union leaders, police chiefs, and firemen. His black supporters will know what is going on, and not take this as a rebuff.