Affirmative distraction

McCain was all over the place on affirmative action Sunday, but this is not an issue Obama wants moving front and center.

Published July 28, 2008 2:52PM (EDT)

Looks like it's time for the incomparable Steve Benen, a frequent contributor here at Salon, to update his mega-list of John McCain's flip-flops. Sunday, when pressed by ABC's George Stephanopoulos about his position on affirmative action, the Arizona senator gave a nonanswer that also represented a new position on the matter. There is almost nothing straight left in the positions of the Straight Talker.

Following the controversial comments by his now-former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama already delivered one pathbreaking speech on race -- and one is the quota, so to speak, for pathbreaking racial addresses by a Democratic presidential nominee. What the Illinois Democrat does not need right now is a second, long national conversation on race. (Especially since conservatives like Rush Limbaugh love to peddle the idea that the only reason Obama won the Democratic nomination in the first place is because he is black and therefore enjoyed some sort of affirmative action advantage just like, you know, all those other nonwhite major-party presidential nominees of recent decades.) The time for Obama to educate the public on affirmative action is after the election, win or lose.

Americans are frustrated about the war. They're even more frustrated about the economy, the subject Obama wants to talk about now that he is back from his whirlwind global tour. (More later on Step No. 1 in that transition: Obama's meeting Monday with investor Warren Buffett, former Fed chairman Paul Volcker and former Treasury chief Robert Rubin.) Though the current White House occupant is a far better model for affirmative action president -- middling high schooler, middling college student, middling Air National guardsman, middling blueblood heir, middling governor -- Obama's race makes him susceptible to the right's politics of distraction. The meeting with the three economic heavyweights should be enough to change the subject.

By Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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