This wasn't last week, but 44 years ago. The Republican from Arizona -- demonized by the entire Democratic and journalistic establishment -- was Sen. Barry Goldwater. And the Democrat, of course, was LBJ.
Liberal Democrats have a long tradition of tarring opponents as the monolithic forces of hatred and prejudice while casting themselves as the enlightened proponents of peace, love and decency. And this election shows that tradition is alive and well.
Over the weekend, civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis of Georgia sold off another chunk of his reputation by coughing up some absurd partisan talking point about how the McCain-Palin campaign reminds him of that of Dixiecrat segregationist George Wallace. And, for the last week, a host of reporters -- not just liberal pundits -- have ominously fretted that the McCain campaign's use of former domestic terrorist Bill Ayers as an issue is a racist ploy. The Washington Post's Anne Kornblut, for instance, wrote that Sarah Palin's comment that Barack Obama was "palling around with terrorists" is "a turn of phrase that critics said was racially loaded."
The most laughable evidence that McCain is sowing hatred stems from the shouts of "terrorist!" and "kill him!" from a few hothead buffoons at McCain rallies. Of course, rather than foment this sort of thing, McCain went out of his way to chastise his own supporters personally and publicly.
McCain has done nothing to fuel racism. Or, put another way, the McCain campaign has done as much to promote prejudice as the Obama campaign has to inflame the vile passions behind the "Abort Sarah Palin" bumper sticker, Madonna's stage video lumping McCain in with Hitler, the eugenic snobbery aimed at Palin's son with Down syndrome or the column in the Philadelphia Daily News that predicted a "race war" if McCain wins.
Wait a second, shout Obama supporters. What about the attempts to paint Obama as "the other," as "different"? Peter Beinart writes in Time that the Republican campaign is trying to cast Obama as not "American enough." Obama is cosmopolitan and represents a changing world. To cast that in a negative light, insists Beinart (a friend and frequent debate opponent), amounts to "shocking" racism.
Beinart recounts how Palin said at one rally, "I am just so fearful that this is not a man who sees America the way that you and I see America." Beinart makes it sound as if she said this through a Klan hood. Please. Every single presidential campaign boils down to an argument about how the candidates "see America." Suddenly that question is out of bounds because Obama is black?
According to the liberal history books, in 1988 the GOP cast Michael Dukakis as too elitist, cosmopolitan and not American enough. In 1992, it ran a similar attack against Bill Clinton -- remember the hullabaloo about draft dodging and that trip to Russia? In 2000, ditto with Al Gore, though the emphasis was less on foreignness and more on extraterrestrialness. And in 2004, there was John Kerry's "global test" for U.S. national security. Lack of originality notwithstanding, why is it suddenly racist to treat Obama just like the four white guys who preceded him? Talk about racial double standards.
Obama holds mega-campaign rallies in Berlin, touts his global appeal and says a top foreign policy goal is to get other countries to like us. But it's racist to call him cosmopolitan?
He has nontrivial ties to an unrepentant (and white) former leader of the Weather Underground, a radical leftist organization that sought to kill American soldiers, policemen and politicians. But it's "racist" to bring that up? (If anything, by not attacking Obama's ties to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and other politically unsavory nonwhite associates, McCain is self-censoring for fear of seeming racist.)
If Obama were a white Democratic nominee named Barry O'Malley, the GOP would be going after him twice as hard. But many liberals would still caterwaul about fomenting hatred and racism, because that's what they always do.