The Wrong Sister Souljah

George Will on Jeremiah Wright, demagogued political ads, and McCain’s “high horse.”

An excerpt:

…On Monday, Wright… espoused the racialist doctrine that blacks have “different” learning styles than do others. This doctrine of racially different brains, or of an unalterably different black culture, is a doctrine today used to justify various soft bigotries of low expectations regarding blacks, and especially black children. It has a long pedigree as a rationalization for injustices. Slaveholders and, later, segregationists loved it.

Obama should be questioned about whether he agrees about “different” learning styles. It is, however, predictable that journalistic and political choruses will attempt to suppress such questioning by suggesting that it is somehow illegitimate. The “daisy ad” and “Willie Horton” will be darkly mentioned.

There have been two television ads in presidential campaigns concerning which there is a settled consensus of deep disapproval. In both cases, the consensus about these acts of supposed mischief is mistaken.

The first ad was used in 1964 by Lyndon Johnson against Barry Goldwater: A small girl plucked petals from a daisy as a voice counted down to a nuclear explosion. The ad, reflecting Johnson’s fear that his large lead would cause complacency among his supporters, concluded with a voice saying: “The stakes are too high for you to stay home.”

Goldwater and many of his supporters were incensed. But Goldwater had said several things suggestive of a somewhat cavalier attitude about the use of force, including nuclear weapons. He had made his judgment a legitimate issue.

In the spring of 1988, in a debate among candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, Tennessee Sen. Al Gore used the matter of Willie Horton against Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, one of Gore’s rivals. Horton had been in a Massachusetts prison serving a life sentence for the murder of a boy Horton stabbed 19 times during a robbery. Horton was frequently released on weekend furloughs. Finally, he fled, kidnapped a couple, stabbed the man and repeatedly raped the woman. Because the ad, made by supporters of Vice President George Bush, included a photo of Horton, critics called it racist. But supporters of Bush argued that the Horton episode was emblematic of Massachusetts’ political culture, or of a liberal mentality, pertinent to assessing Dukakis.

When North Carolina Republicans recently ran an ad featuring Wright in full cry, McCain mounted his high horse, from which he rarely dismounts, and demanded that the ad be withdrawn. The North Carolinians properly refused. Wright is relevant.

He is a demagogue with whom Obama has had a voluntary 20-year relationship that implies, if not moral approval, certainly no serious disapproval. Wright also is an ongoing fountain of anti-American and, properly understood, anti-black rubbish. His Monday speech demonstrated that he wants to be a central figure in this presidential campaign. He should be.

Will might have mentioned the “swiftboat” ads against Kerry, which liberals have enshrined as “smears” against a great American war hero.

And Mary Katharine Ham elaborates on McCain’s “Sister Souljah moment” :

What should have been a mostly uneventful weekend for McCain, two weeks before the increasingly ugly Democratic campaign culminates in a Carolina showdown, turned into a hurricane of bad press when the presumptive Republican nominee asked the state Republican Party not to run an anti-Obama ad targeted at North Carolina’s two Democratic gubernatorial candidates, both of whom endorsed Obama.

The ad, now quite familiar to anyone with a TV or radio suggested that Obama’s connection to Wright made him “too extreme” for North Carolina, and made Richard Moore and Bev Perdue too extreme by extension.

It was a mostly unremarkable ad, employing no more radical a line of attack than the Republican National Committee, now run by McCain’s own people, had been actively and openly hoping would resonate with voters into the general election. The N.C. GOP used the attack precisely because it is a legitimate issue that resonates with voters, even with regard to a candidate once removed from Wright. It was a validation of the GOP’s strategy, not a violation of it.

Then, in soared John McCain, determined to have his Sister Souljah moment at the expense of the wrong people. No one reminded him that effective Sister Souljah moments must repudiate extremists like Wright, not mainstream officials of your own party running rather benign ads.

In the most comically overblown denouncement of a campaign flush with repudiations, McCain called the N.C. GOP “out of touch with reality and the Party,” “dead wrong,” and suggested the ad introduced issues of “race” that were inappropriate, which it did not.

For his crusade, he earned himself no less than two and a half hours of bashing on Friday’s “Rush Limbaugh Show,” where the conservative host mocked the senator for teaching us all that being of independent mind is something to be prized above all else, except for when being a Maverick means ignoring the Maverick himself. “We’re all Independents now, Senator,” Limbaugh hooted during each call from an angry North Carolina Republican.

By Saturday morning, the McCain news e-mail list, which had previously delivered to my inbox no fewer than 50 Jeremiah Wright stories since the story broke, sent me the New York Times’ editorial that validated McCain’s new notion that mentioning Wright had become “shameful, ugly, race-baiting, and manipulative.” I half-expected the next news story to inform me that McCain had joined the call of Al Sharpton to “shut down” New York City in light of the Sean Bell verdict, so deep into the weeds of liberal racial demagoguery had he creeped. In classic style, McCain’s sense of “right” was the only sense of “right” acceptable in this incident, and it happened to be decidedly, err, left.

Yes, it was a pickle only the likes of John McCain could have gotten himself into.

Luckily, it was a pickle only the likes of Barack Obama could have gotten him out of.

Obama, apparently confused by the old adage “never murder your opponent when he’s busy committing suicide,” decided to offer rigorous first aid to the Arizona senator on “Fox News Sunday,” saying, “I think that people were legitimately offended by some of the comments that he had made in the past. The fact that he is my former pastor I think makes it a legitimate political issue.”

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