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Obama as black man

Obama has undoubtedly gotten some extra attention because he's black, but his race wouldn't have helped him were it not for the many other ways in which he's a distinctive candidate. His race is inextricable from the larger story of his public character: his optimism; his recognition that America is still not the nation it ought to be without being bitter, reactionary, or beholden to traditional identity politics; his personal history and how it amplifies the message of his campaign. He's a unique candidate, a cynosure of a large spectrum of the American populace who want to believe in a certain idea of America that he represents.

Ferraro is still wrong, though. Whether Obama would have had the same kind of political style and persona if he'd grown up white is moot; what's important is that he's here now and his message is resonant with a large number of people for whom his race is a secondary concern (I think it's impossible to seriously claim that there's any natural-born American for whom his race is not at all a concern. Race is always a concern). Make him white, make him a little less populist and give him a single-payer health care plan and he's John Edwards – I'm certain that more Edwards supporters are now supporting Obama than Clinton.

Ferraro is self-aware enough to have turned the lens on herself. She's said she wouldn't have been a candidate for veep if she hadn't been a woman. I can't read her mind, so I don't know if she thinks this lets her off the hook for saying similar things about Obama, but if so, she's completely wrong. The selection of vice-presidential candidates is purely a function of electoral and political calculation, and not subject to the popular will. Even if she's right (and, for the record, I think she is. Her political career has not been particularly distinguished, even if she does represent New York), there's no equating the two situations – she was chosen by Mondale and the DNC, Obama has to be chosen by the Democratic party en masse.

Finally, it should be self-evident that both racism and sexism are alive and well this campaign season, and that whomever of the two wins the Democratic nomination is going to be getting splattered with all manner of bigoted mud as soon as the convention ends. Any advantage gained in the nomination race will just make it harder for the Democrats in the general campaign. I can't think of a clearer example of the Prisoner's Dilemma in politics, at least recently. Both Obama and Clinton need to be vigilant about this kind of pernicious bullshit, whether it's coming from a soi-disant "outsider" to their campaign or as official campaign strategy. It could just be me, but I'm suddenly hearing a lot more people saying they're just going to stay home if Clinton gets the nomination. If McCain wins because the Democrats have disgusted and alienated too many of their potential voters, that will be a real tragedy.

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