Many people talk about the use of the “race card.” Playing the race card does not mean talking about race or discrimination, which are legitimate political and moral issues. Playing the race card is the use of false accusations of racism to shape the political debate and stifle political opposition.

The Obama campaign, its supporters, and the pro-Obama mainstream media, play the race card the way Vladimir Horowitz played the piano, at times subtle and nuanced, at times dramatic and intense. But play the race card they do, time and again.

Bill Clinton was accused of using racist imagery for saying that’s Obama’s claim to have led the opposition to the Iraq war was a “fairy tale.” Here is Bill Clinton’s full quote, as reported by CNN:

“It is wrong that Sen. Obama got to go through 15 debates trumpeting his superior judgment and how he had been against the war in every year, enumerating the years, and never got asked one time, not once, ‘Well, how could you say that when you said in 2004 you didn’t know how you would have voted on the resolution? You said in 2004 there was no difference between you and George Bush on the war,” Clinton said at a campaign stop in Hanover, New Hampshire.

“And you took that speech you’re now running on off your Web site in 2004. And there’s no difference in your voting record and Hillary’s ever since.”

He added, “Give me a break. This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen.” (http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2008/01/08/bill-clinton-targets-media-coverage-of-obama/)

Calling the use of the term “fairy tale” racist was incomprehensible, but the accusation put the Hillary Clinton campaign back on its heels, and silenced legitimate criticism of Obama’s supposed opposition to the war. Since that point in time, no one has dared point out that Obama was extremely cautious in opposing the war, and hardly took a leadership position. Does anyone remember hearing in 2002 or early 2003 about Obama’s efforts against the war, or do we only know what Obama says now about that opposition? Bill Clinton’s criticism of Obama was correct, but the use of the false accusation of racism shut down that debate, allowing Obama to build a campaign around the fairly tale that Obama actively opposed the war.

Geraldine Ferraro also had the temerity to point out that Obama’s race had helped his campaign. That should not be a controversial statement. Obama explicitly has campaigned as a “post-racial” candidate based upon his mixed race, and many black and white voters are voting for him at least in part because of his race. Joe Biden himself has opined that Obama’s race is a legitimate reason to vote for him:

Biden said the policies of running mate Barack Obama make his presidency even more urgent and declared this to be the most important election that any living person has seen in their lifetime. But he particularly singled out the meaning of electing someone who is black. “That will be a transformative event in American politics and internationally,” Biden said. “That all by itself will be significant.” (http://www.citizen-times.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=200880914028)

Other liberal commentators have expressed the same view as Biden, that Obama’s race is a legitimate reason to vote for him:

I believe that most of Obama’s supporters are voting for him for the same reason. Like me, they’re drawn to his idealism, his youthful energy, his progressive politics. But it’s his blackness that seals the deal. And that’s OK. In fact, it’s wonderful. (http://www.salon.com/opinion/kamiya/2008/02/26/obama/)

Nonetheless, Geraldine Ferraro was termed a racist because Ferraro was a supporter of Hillary Clinton. Obama supporters and the mainstream media howled with disapproval of Ferraro, forcing Ferraro to withdraw from the Clinton campaign. (http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/03/12/ferraro.comments/index.html)

Barack Obama himself has used race in his speeches to advance his agenda. One of the themes of the Obama campaign over the summer was that the Republicans would try to scare voters by referring to Obama’s race. In two now famous speeches, Obama pressed the point that the Republicans would point out that Obama does not look like other presidents, and is “black.”

Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama said on Friday he expects Republicans to highlight the fact that he is black as part of an effort to make voters afraid of him.

“It is going to be very difficult for Republicans to run on their stewardship of the economy or their outstanding foreign policy,” Obama told a fundraiser in Jacksonville, Florida. “We know what kind of campaign they’re going to run. They’re going to try to make you afraid.

“They’re going to try to make you afraid of me. He’s young and inexperienced and he’s got a funny name. And did I mention he’s black?” (http://www.reuters.com/article/politicsNews/idUSN2040982720080620?feedType=RSS&feedName=politicsNews&rpc=22&sp=true)

Of course, the Republicans had done no such thing, but little did that matter. The implicit accusation that Republicans are racist helped blunt otherwise legitimate political attacks on Obama’s inexperience.

The latest (but certainly not the only) use of the race card was by John Lewis, a prominent civil rights leader in the 1960s. Lewis has compared John McCain to George Wallace because McCain has questioned Obama’s ties to a white domestic terrorist, William Ayers. Huh? How does questioning Obama’s ties to a white person smack of George Wallace’s use of racial hatred?

Roger Simon in The Politico correctly has characterized Lewis’ accusations as a warning shot for McCain not to go the next step and criticize Obama’s ties to Jeremiah Wright:

What McCain has not been pursuing, to the consternation of some of his supporters, is an attack on Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. On the face of it, attacking Obama on Wright makes more sense than attacking him on Ayers. Obama was much closer to Wright and Wright’s statements are much more recent than Ayers’ actions. But McCain is resisting. So far. He wants to get out of this presidential race without being accused of racism. And that was the point of John Lewis’ very strong statement. Lewis was issuing a warning to McCain. He was saying: Don’t go there. Don’t even think about going there.” (http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1008/14571.html)

There is nothing racist about criticizing Obama’s connection to Jeremiah Wright, a connection far deeper and more important than Obama’s connection to William Ayers. Jeremiah Wright represents the worst element of our society, a true George Wallace albeit of a different race. Wright represents the kind of racial politics which truly divide our nation, and Obama was knee deep in those politics before running for U.S. Senate. Obama and Wright were mutual enablers, and the relationship is fair game.

But the race card has worked again. McCain is afraid to attack the Wright/Obama connection for fear of being called racist.

It is the stifling of legitimate debate which is fueling anger throughout the country. We are on the verge of electing a president who built his political career on the backs of race-baiters and anti-american zealots, and we can’t talk about it out of fear of being called “racist.”

The suppression of legitimate political expression through false accusations of racism by the Obama campaign and its supporters is the defining theme of the 2008 campaign. This tactic, while it may be successful, is shameful and has damaged our society in ways we may not understand for years.