White Guilt and John McCain

How racial taboos benefit Obama.

During last night’s debate, moderator Bob Schieffer prompted John McCain to criticize Barack Obama’s dubious associations “to his face”:

Mr. Ayers–I don’t care about an old washed-up terrorist. But as Sen. Clinton said in her debates with you, we need to know the full extent of that relationship.

We need to know the full extent of Senator Obama’s relationship with ACORN, who is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy. The same front outfit organization that your campaign gave $832,000 for “lighting and site selection.” So all of these things need to be examined, of course.

So what about Jeremiah Wright? Months ago, the revelation that Obama’s so-called spiritual mentor was a race-baiting anti-American crackpot almost saved the nomination for Hillary Clinton. Yet McCain, unlike Mrs. Clinton, has apparently decided that Wright is off-limits.

Why? Could it be white guilt? Could it be that race turns out to be a more complicated and fraught question for the Republican nominee than for the Democratic one?

Barack Obama is a creature of the post-civil-rights era. Born to a mixed-race couple less than three years before the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he spent his formative years in Hawaii and Indonesia and did not live in the mainland United States until 1979, by which time Jim Crow was good and dead.

McCain, by contrast, was in his late 20s in 1964. He grew up as a Navy brat, so that like Obama he might have been somewhat distant from domestic American life. But in a March speech in Meridian, Miss., he mentioned having spent “a couple summers here as a young boy.” In the early ’60s, as a young Navy flier, he returned to Meridian, where he was stationed at McCain Field, named for his grandfather. It stands to reason that McCain, having spent time in pre-civil-rights Mississippi as a boy and a young man, has some memories of de jure segregation.

McCain also has run up against the race question in his political career. While campaigning for president in 2000, as CNN reported, he weighed in on a controversy over South Carolina’s display of the Confederate flag: “Personally, I see the flag as symbol of heritage.” After losing the nomination, he claimed that he had been dishonest:

“I feared that if I answered honestly, I could not win the South Carolina primary. So I chose to compromise my principles.”

“I promised to tell the truth always about my intentions and beliefs. I fell short of that standard in South Carolina,” McCain said. “While my response was factually accurate, it did not answer how I personally felt about the flag.”

“My ancestors fought for the Confederacy . . . but I don’t believe their service, however distinguished, needs to be commemorated in a way that offends, deeply hurts, people whose ancestors were once denied their freedom by my ancestors,” McCain said.

Earlier this year, McCain came under fire for having voted in 1983 against establishing a federal holiday in Martin Luther King’s honor, and he said he had been wrong about that. The King holiday has special resonance for someone from Arizona, where in 1987 Gov. Evan Mecham prompted widespread outrage and national boycotts by rescinding the state holiday his predecessor had ordered.

There is one other Arizona connection of note: Barry Goldwater, the man McCain succeeded in the Senate in 1986, was the Republican presidential nominee in 1964. He lost in a 44-state landslide, but won five traditionally Democratic Deep South states as a result of his vote earlier in the year against the Civil Rights Act. More Republicans than Democrats supported the Civil Rights Act, and Goldwater’s opposition was rooted in antagonism toward big government rather than toward blacks. But the GOP has never lived down its association with opposition to civil rights, and no Republican presidential candidate since 1960 has exceeded a small fraction of the black vote.

Avoiding Jeremiah Wright (and other racially tinged matters, such as the role of the Community Reinvestment Act in the current financial panic) has not enabled McCain to escape the charge of racism, as Charles Krauthammer (quoted by Commentary’s Pete Wehner) notes:

When John McCain runs an ad with a white woman, Paris Hilton, in it, he is accused of racism. He runs an ad with Franklin Raines, the former head of Fannie Mae, in it, who is African-American, and that’s racist. And then he runs an ad with William Ayers, who is a white male, in it, and that’s racist.

If it weren’t so comical, these promiscuous accusations of racism, it would be tragic.

Indeed, last night McCain was reduced to pleading with Obama to make it stop:

A man I admire and respect–I’ve written about him–Congressman John Lewis, an American hero, made allegations that Sarah Palin and I were somehow associated with the worst chapter in American history, segregation, deaths of children in church bombings, George Wallace. That, to me, was so hurtful.

And, Senator Obama, you didn’t repudiate those remarks. Every time there’s been an out-of-bounds remark made by a Republican, no matter where they are, I have repudiated them. I hope that Senator Obama will repudiate those remarks that were made by Congressman John Lewis, very unfair and totally inappropriate.

Obama replied by distancing himself from Lewis’s incendiary statements but putting McCain down as a whiner: “I think the American people are less interested in our hurt feelings during the course of the campaign than addressing the issues that matter to them so deeply.”

To our mind, the most troubling thing about Obama’s relationship with Wright has nothing to do with race. It is, rather, Obama’s apparent insouciance in the face of Wright’s hostility toward America, the country Obama wants to lead. McCain, it seems to us, is going out of his way not to bring this up for fear of opening up old racial wounds. In this respect, it is a shame the Republicans didn’t nominate somebody younger–somebody who, like Obama, was not around to be implicated in America’s troubled racial history, and who therefore would not feel constrained to give Obama a free pass on his relationship with a racial demagogue.

Going Negative on ‘Joe the Plumber’
“Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher was one of John McCain’s more effective tropes last night. The Toledo Blade gives us the background:

Mr. Wurzelbacher and Mr. Obama had something of a debate Sunday as the candidate walked house to house on Shrewsbury at the start of the candidate’s four-day visit in the Toledo area.

He told Mr. Obama that he was trying to buy a plumbing business.

“I’m being taxed more and more for fulfilling the American dream,” Mr. Wurzelbacher said Sunday.

Mr. Obama said, in part, “It’s not that I want to punish your success. I just want to make sure that everybody that is behind you, that they have a chance for success, too.

“I think that when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”

The exchange was caught on videotape and was broadcast on a variety of news outlets and put on numerous Web sites, including YouTube.

Now Democrats and the press are going negative on Joe the Plumber. The Blade article leads off by questioning whether he is really a plumber:

According to Lucas County Building Inspection records, A. W. Newell Corp. does maintain a state plumbing license, and one with the City of Toledo, but would not be allowed to work in Lucas County outside of Toledo without a county license.

Mr. Wurzelbacher said he works under Al Newell’s license, but according to Ohio building regulations, he must maintain his own license to do plumbing work.

He is also not registered to operate as a plumber in Ohio, which means he’s not a plumber.

Mr. Wurzelbacher said he was hired by Mr. Newell six years ago and that the possibility of him eventually buying the company was discussed during his job interview.

He said it’s his understanding he can work under Mr. Newell’s license as long as the licensed contractor works on the same site.

Mr. Wurzelbacher said he is working on taking the Ohio plumbing contractors’ license test.

An Associated Press story on the same subject is written by the delightfully named John Seewer. Joe Biden, meanwhile, says Wurzelbacher can’t be a plumber because he’s so successful, Politico reports:

Biden questioned whether Joe “the plumber” Wurzelbacher is a “real” plumber Thursday after the Ohio citizen vaulted to the front of campaign dialogue during the final presidential debate.

“John [McCain] continues to cling to the notion of this guy Joe the plumber,” Biden said on NBC’s “Today” show. “I don’t have any Joe the plumbers in my neighborhood that make $250,000 a year.”

“The Joe the plumbers in my neighborhood, the Joe the cops in my neighborhood, the Joe the grocery store owners in my neighborhood, they make, like 98 percent of the small businesses, less than $250,000 a year.”

Bloomberg reports that Wurzelbacher has an outstanding state tax lien to the tune of nearly $1,200, and TalkingPointsMemo mocks his profession by posting an unflattering photo of a plumber’s rear end. At least The Atlantic hasn’t demanded his medical records. Not yet, anyway.

Are We There Yet?
They’re getting impatient up at Harvard. Richard Tedlow and David Ruben, respectively a professor and research associate at the business school, say they can’t wait until Jan. 20 for the new president:

Assume that Barack Obama wins the election, as polls show is increasingly likely. The following day, Vice President Cheney should be prevailed upon to resign. Using his powers to designate a successor under the 25th Amendment, President Bush should then appoint, and Congress should confirm, Obama as vice president (just as Richard Nixon appointed Gerald Ford vice president in 1973 when Spiro Agnew resigned). Bush himself should then resign, elevating Obama to the presidency–as Ford became president when Nixon resigned. Obama should then appoint Joe Biden as vice president.

With Congress’s confirmation of Biden, the new administration would be in place, on the job, and ready to tackle the economic crisis–in November, not January. (The electoral college’s official ratification of the election results in December would merely rubber-stamp the transition.)

Heck, why wait for the election? Cheney and Bush could resign today to make way for Obama and Biden. This would free up Bush and Cheney to go out and campaign for McCain, which would assure an Obama victory.

Or maybe Tedlow and Ruben should just freeze themselves for three weeks.

Then Again, Maybe We’re Nuts
Errol Louis, a columnist for New York’s Daily News (and occasional co-panelist of this columnist at “Lou Dobbs Tonight”), defends the voter-registration shenanigans of Acorn, Barack Obama’s former client:

The essence of the right-wingers’ case is that thousands of voter registration forms submitted by ACORN workers–out of an estimated 1.3 million registrations completed in 21 states over the past 18 months–turned out to be fraudulent or defective.

That shouldn’t surprise anyone. By law, in most states, people doing voter registration must turn in every form collected, including obviously tainted ones. It’s a sensible rule that prevents groups from altering, defacing or destroying registrations by people who joined the “wrong” party.

If a person registers as Mickey Mouse and gives the Magic Kingdom as his address, the form still has to be turned in to election officials. Ditto for so-called “kitchen table” registrations copied out of phone books or other lists by lazy, law-breaking members of a vote-registration team.

ACORN says it submitted all voter registrations as required by law, with the problematic ones bundled separately and flagged as probably fake.

Well, maybe. On the other hand, consider this Houston Chronicle report on Acorn’s efforts in Harris County, Texas:

About half of the 14,000 ACORN applications that were rejected in Harris County were missing required information such as the potential voter’s address, date of birth and Texas driver’s license number, said Paul Bettencourt, the county’s voter registrar and tax assessor-collector. Another 3,800 applicants already were registered to vote.

Bettencourt said his staff checked the voting rolls and did not find any obviously phony registered voters. His bigger concern is the time his staff wastes processing duplicate applications. By comparison, only four duplicates were found among 4,000 applications submitted by the League of Women voters, and five have been found in 3,300 applications submitted by the Harris County Democratic Party.

If other organizations can do registration without these problems, why can’t Acorn?

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: