Friday, September 19, 2008


Greg Sargent and Eric Kleefeld of Talking Points Memo suggest that the ad below is racist because it links Obama to former Fannie Mae head Franklin Raines, who's black:

Maybe, maybe not. On one hand, as Sargent and Kleefeld point out, the ad focuses on Raines and ignores Jim Johnson, a white former Fannie-ite with stronger ties to Obama, and the average-American victim shown at the end of the ad is white. On the other hand, Raines is the typical ad attack-ad villain, a prominent guy who screwed up, and Obama can actually be linked to him (although, as Sargent and Kleefeld note, the McCain campaign greatly exaggerates the link), so how different is this from any other attack ad?

But there's one word in the ad that bothers me. It's near the end. Obama is shown, and next to his head we see this (which we also hear):


It's "instincts" that gives me pause. I think it taps into creepy old racist notions of blacks as primal, elemental people who act on primitive drives (some of them quite sinister) rather than on intelligence or knowledge.

I remember that, back in the Larry Bird/Magic Johnson era in the NBA, it was noted that many sports commentators automatically ascribed the success of Bird and other white players to "intelligence" and "court sense" and other cerebral-sounding attributes, while black players were said to thrive because of "athleticism" and intuitive (rather than learned) mastery of the game. Whites were basketball scholars; blacks were, well, instinctual players.

Maybe I'm overreading this, but that's what I think is behind that one word.


By the way, Obama's returned fire with this ad about McCain's advisers -- Fiorina, Gramm, and Bush. It's a really good ad.


UPDATE: Time's Karen Tumulty looks at the Obama/Raines ad and says flatly that this is McCain playing the race card. On the other hand, the McCain campaign now has an additional ad featuring Jim Johnson.

Does the Johnson ad make any reference to Obama's "instincts"? No, it doesn't.

According to Tumulty, the McCain campaign says the ad with the Sinister Black Guy "will be airing nationally." I'm not sure what plans there are for the Sinister White Guy. If the Raines ad gets a much bigger ad buy than the Johnson ad, then we know what's going on.

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