When the North Carolina GOP announced its intention to run an ad featuring Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama’s controversial pastor, lots of people got the vapors, including John McCain.
North Carolina Democrats have denounced the ad as “racist.” John McCain has gone almost as far. “I’ve done everything that I can to repudiate and to see that this kind of campaigning does not continue,” McCain said. He called North Carolina Republicans “out of touch with reality” in their refusal to pull the ad and suggested they aren’t worthy of the party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan.
Please. The ad is a bank shot on top of a bank shot, hitting two Democratic gubernatorial candidates for endorsing Obama who, in turn, was long associated with the radical Wright. We doubt it will be particularly effective. But there is nothing illegitimate about it.
Obama’s relationship to Wright is relevant to his judgment, character, and — in his explanations of what he knew and when about Wright — his honesty. Are we to ignore all this because Wright is black? Are only videos of white pastors damning America fit for airwaves? It’s not Wright’s race that matters, but his racist and anti-American rantings.
We understand McCain’s desire to steer well clear of any racial foul-play, but there’s none in the ad and he’s foolish to be pushed into the position of speech cop for every other Republican in the country. It’s unclear what McCain’s principled standard for criticism of Obama is. The Illinois senator has a closer relationship to Wright than former terrorist William Ayers, but McCain has seen fit to condemn the latter association.
From now until November, any Republican criticizing Wright will be accused of playing the race card. It’s a way to shut down discussion of Wright’s poisonous worldview, and of what it says about Obama. These rules stack the deck and stifle legitimate debate. Republicans must reject them.