The Race Card: An Ace Up McCain’s Sleeve?

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Photo: Photo-illustration: Everett Bogue; Photos: Getty Images

Perhaps it was only a matter of time before the old race-card brouhahas of the Democratic primaries resurfaced in the general election. On Thursday, Barack Obama told crowds in Missouri that his opponents will try to scare voters by telling them, "'You know, he’s not patriotic enough. He’s got a funny name. You know, he doesn’t look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills." This is a variation of a line Obama delivered in June and in keeping with a theme he's used throughout the election. But John McCain's campaign took special umbrage at the line, and yesterday issued a statement reading, "Barack Obama has played the race card, and he played it from the bottom of the deck." The back-and-forth continued as Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs denied Obama was using race. "He was referring to the fact that he didn't come into the race with the history of others," Gibbs told the Associated Press. "It is not about race." But right now the campaign is about race, and specifically, that pesky race card: Who really played it, why did they do it, and what will its impact be?

• Rich Lowry claims that "Obama hopes to use the racism card to inhibit all criticism of him, with the presumed cooperation of the press." But he could throw away the advantage he gets from his race if he's not seen in a "post-racial context." [National Review]

• Michael Crowley thinks that Obama was "clearly" talking about race, but it surely didn't "merit the outraged accusations from the McCain camp that Obama is 'playing the race card.'" The McCain campaign simply "exploited an opportunity to overreact and they must know it." [Stump/New Republic]

• Michael Cooper and Michael Powell think the McCain campaign's strategy of ensuring race would be "a factor in coverage of the presidential race" could be risky. It could either "tap into the qualms some white, working-class voters in crucial swing states may have about a black candidate, or it could ricochet back against the McCain campaign." [NYT]

• Greg Sargent thinks it's clear that "[b]y charging that Obama is playing the race card, the McCain campaign is itself playing the race card." [TPM Election Central]

• Carol Platt Liebau believes invoking race is "a dumb strategic move" for Obama because "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." [Town Hall]

• The New York Times editorial board thinks Obama quite rightly called out the McCain campaign for trying to scare voters. The McCain campaign's response was "not only contemptible, but shrewd. It puts the sin for the racial attack not on those who made it, but on the victim of the attack." [Board/NYT]

• Charles Hurt calls Obama's remarks "the worst blunder of his campaign," because it's "completely unfair, diminishes his own campaign, and certainly is the worst possible way to win over those blue-collar white Democrats in Ohio and Pennsylvania." [NYP]

• Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin write that "both campaigns have been girding for" such a conflict and prepared "to find effective ways to blame the other campaign for any unpalatable racial subtext." But both campaigns could lose out: Obama could "push votes away from him" depending on how he discusses race, while McCain could "be distracted and ultimately diminished by constant charges of racism, accurate or not." [Politico]

• Andrew Romano doesn't think Obama played the race card, but that he's just "acknowledging all the subterranean doubts and suspicions that threaten his bid … and saying, preemptively, that to succumb to them would be to fall prey to 'politics as usual.'" Since McCain ignored Obama's similar previous statements, he "proves that when playing the 'playing the race card' card, the impression you create — an impression of your rival saying something racially outrageous that benefits you politically — is far more important than whether or not you actually think he said something racially outrageous." [Stumper/Newsweek]

• Jennifer Rubin asks if there's "anything more off-putting to the people whom Obama needs to bring into the fold — those Bittergate voters he dissed once before — than this line of attack?" [Contentions/Commentary]

• Matthew Yglesias thinks that "trying to sniff out racial subtexts" in McCain's ads is "overwhelmingly likely to prove problematic." Simply put, "[p]eople really don't like to be called racists." If people are told their doubts about Obama "are really just racism, they get defensive." [Atlantic]

• Chuck Todd and friends assert that "[a]nytime race is THE topic du jour in the campaign, it's a bad day for Obama. Period." But what the McCain campaign has accomplished with the race-card charge and all the other negative attacks this week is that they've managed to "knock Obama off his message of the day and keep him busy responding to these charges." [First Read/MSNBC] —Dan Amira

Related: McCain Captured on Video Resorting to Gonzo Attacks

For a complete and regularly updated guide to presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain — from First Love to Most Embarrassing Gaffe — read the 2008 Electopedia.