Sean Wilentz: Hold On--'3 A.M.' Wasn't Racist





[Sean Wilentz is a contributing editor at The New Republic, and the author of The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln (Norton).]

Reading Orlando Patterson's op-ed in the New York Times, "The Red Phone in Black and White," is a depressing experience. Not only does the piece scurrilously accuse Hillary Clinton's campaign of cutting an ad that borrows from the filmmaker D.W. Griffith's glorification of the Ku Klux Klan. Not only is this attack based on a Clinton advertisement about national security, not domestic policy (let alone race), that required a singularly tortured and biased "close reading" by Patterson to reach its conclusions. What is truly depressing is that the essay fits what has become a troubling and familiar pattern by the Obama campaign and its fervent supporters to inject racial politics on the eve of yet another Democratic primary in a Southern state, in this case Mississippi, where African-American voters are expected to vote in large numbers.

I described this pattern on February 27, accounting for how the Obama campaign has cleverly played what I called the "race-baiter card"--and yet blamed Hillary Clinton. These efforts, undertaken both by Obama's own campaign and its boosters in the press, escalated after Clinton's surprising win in New Hampshire and in the build-up to the South Carolina primary. To recount the ugliness: Obama--through his national co-chair, Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr.--accused Clinton of studied callousness toward the victims of Hurricane Katrina; his press supporters falsely ascribed her victory to racism among New Hampshire's Democratic voters; the Obama campaign then went on to seize upon non-controversial and historically accurate statements by Bill and Hillary Clinton (as in the notorious Martin Luther King-Lyndon Johnson episode, fully discredited by Bill Moyers and others) and called them inflammatory race-baiting.

Now, in anticipation of the Mississippi primary, it's happening again. In Texas, Ohio, and Rhode Island on March 4, as earlier in New Hampshire, the Obama campaign did not achieve the knock-out blow it expected and predicted. Indeed, just before those primaries and since, Obama's camp started to receive serious criticism and scrutiny for the first time, over the candidate's connections to indicted Chicago fixer Tony Rezko, and over the amateurish and revealing actions of senior advisers Austan Goolsbee, Susan Rice, and Samantha Power. The campaign has turned to double-talk and to stonewalling the press. And once again, it has lashed out by playing racial politics while accusing the Clinton campaign of playing the very same game....


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Al-Zamar L. McKinney - 3/14/2008

You may not like this, but you are certainly wrong on this one. Go back and look at the ad and you'll immediately see what I'm talking about. Obama's face has been darkened, his tie has been darkened, but his shirt remains white. Wait, how is that possible?

This shows that there was nothing wrong with the video and that this was indeed deliberately done through the process of desaturation and saturation. The reason why Obama's skin and tie are darkened, while his shirt is left white, is because they wanted to contrast his "black face" with his white shirt in order to more clearly bring out his "blackness".

If this does not appeal to the racist sentiments of whites, then I don't know what does.

But again, don't take my word for it, watch the video again...

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