PRUDEN: It's time to play the race card
Race-baiting never goes out of style. Only the races and the baiters change. Drawing the race card is nearly always a sign of desperation, as any number of old white politicians could tell you if they were not all dead.
When George Wallace lost his first race for governor of Alabama, back in the benighted days, he vowed never to be "out-segged" again. He was making polite conversation. Sen. Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi, whose name was synonymous with mean-spirited race politics in the South, once felt the hot breath of a challenger and called in his campaigners to tell them "it's time to start yelling n——-." Bilbo and his campaigners quickly obliged and the backwoods p——-w——, r———- and w—— t—— obliged with enthusiasm and votes.
Those days are mercifully behind us, but now Barack Obama wants to join the sordid ranks of the race hustlers, like the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, if not necessarily the race baiters. Maybe there's only a small distinction between hustling and baiting, but once the toxic stuff is let loose, it doesn't matter what you call it.
The Democratic National Committee released a video clip Monday of the president rousing his troops with what Politico, the Capitol Hill political paper, calls with artful euphemism, "unusual demographic frankness." The auguries for November do not look good, the president concedes, and he wants "young people, African-Americans, Latinos and women who powered our victory in 2008 [to] stand together once again." Many of these "surge" voters cast their first ballots in 2008 and then ignored pleas to turn out for gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia (or that famous Senate race in Massachusetts) and the Democrats took a licking.
No candidate, Democrat or Republican, would take the risk — real and even frightening — of drawing the race card unless absolutely necessary, of course, "absolutely necessary" defined as the occasion when his survival is at stake. Mr. Obama's survival is not yet at stake, but if a calamity like the big blowout of '94 falls on the Democrats again this year the president's prospects for re-election in 2012 would dim considerably. Now's the time for unusual demographic frankness of the kind that the Barack Obama of 2008 so eloquently denounced with word if not always in deed.
Mr. Obama spent enormous political capital to ram the health care "reform" down the throats of a public struggling not to swallow, and now he wants to do it again, and then again, and then once more, with his toxic agenda of financial reform, global warming "solutions" and immigration "reform" that he won't call by its rightful name, "amnesty." It's almost as if the president has figured out that he will be a one-term president and is determined to use whatever capital he has to impose as much as he can of that radical stuff from his Chicago activist days.
The attempt to make "solving" global warming a bipartisan effort collapsed over the weekend when Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, who gives the impression of yearning to be a Democrat when he grows up, quit his alliance with Sen. John Kerry and Sen. Joe Lieberman. The collapse may be temporary. The unholy musketeers had decided to ditch something called "a carbon linkage fee" (what everyone but a senator would call a "tax") in favor of allowing polluting companies to buy the right to continue polluting from companies willing to sell their polluting indulgences. This is more of Al Gore's global warming fantasy, and in the end the Obama administration might have to settle for a Senate resolution telling the Icelandic volcano to behave itself.
If he can push the global-warming legislation aside Mr. Obama can move amnesty for the illegals to the top of his agenda, but this, as any number of Democratic congressmen are telling him loud and clear, is merely substituting a noose for the electric chair for a lot of Democratic incumbents. "It's not a tough vote at all for me," Rep. Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania tells Politico. "I'm not going to vote for amnesty. I'm not going to vote for a path to citizenship, or whatever you want to call it. … It's not like health care where everyone has a dog in the fight. If you come from where I come from, there's no support for [immigration reform] at all."
Mr. Obama, who rarely took a recorded stand on anything during his brief career as a senator, keeps demanding that Democrats in Congress fall on their swords for him. There's no scarcity of swords but he's running out of willing Democrats. The race card is all he's got left.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.