Obama's big blunder

He ducks a question about whether he'd invite Barry Bonds to the White House when he breaks the home run record.

Published August 8, 2007 1:00AM (EDT)

OK, I'm on record as a Barry Bonds fan. Not a completely blind Bonds fan, as I used to be, but even I admit my judgment could be clouded here. Still, I'm pretty clear about it: I think Barack Obama's decision to duck Keith Olbermann's question about whether he'd invite Barry Bonds to the White House when he breaks baseball's home run record was one of his biggest political blunders yet.

It was a tough question: Say no, and he'll alienate a lot of black voters, who tend to think as I do that there's an element of racism in the crusade against Bonds. (Yes, I know Hank Aaron is black, but the enmity predates Bonds chasing Aaron, and predates even the steroid rumors.) Say yes, and he'll alienate a whole lot of sports fans who hate Bonds. Say "he hasn't done it yet; we'll answer the question when it comes," and you look like a typical politician ducking a question that requires courage, and it can't help costing you support.

It was a mistake, because it will dog him: Bonds will break the record, perhaps even tonight. I think Obama the civil rights litigator could have said: Bonds has never tested positive for steroids and he deserves the presumption of innocence, and yes, I'll invite him to the White House. Obama the crossover African-American post-civil rights leader, the one who's not afraid to say tough things about work, family and responsibility to black audiences, could have gotten away with saying he wouldn't. I'm not sure he'll get away with this mealy-mouthed reply, not when he's trying to be the man who represents change. I was disappointed, and I'm a big Obama fan. But I'd have loved to see what the rest of the field said.

By Joan Walsh

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