North Carolina, 1990

"You needed that job, and you were the best qualified. But they had to give it to a minority because of a racial quota. Is that really fair?"

So began the infamous "hands" political ad in support of Jesse Helms for U.S. Senate, which emphasized Helms's black opponent (Harvey Gant) and his support for affirmative action by depicting a pair of white working man's hands presumably crumpling up a rejection letter from a prospective employer.

Just for the record, as I have written before, although reasonable people can disagree, I see the 1990 Helms-Gant ad as within the bounds of fair play and acceptable political discourse.

Cut to: North Carolina, 2008

Ironically, eighteen years later, the Tar Heel State is once again hosting a pivotal battle with national ramifications in a contest freighted with racial overtones.

Where Are We in this Contest?

Any honest observer at this point will admit that Hillary Clinton is on a roll and exceeding even the most optimistic expectations regarding her range and capacity as a candidate. Like the most recent Super Bowl champion incarnation of the New York Giants, Mrs. Clinton has peaked at the right moment in the season, playing at the top of her game when it counts the most.

On the other hand, Barack Obama finds himself bereft of momentum with no upswing in sight, (caution: about to switch sports metaphors) desperately trying to run the political version of the old Dean Smith "four corners" offense to preserve his precarious lead.

Nevertheless, even as more and more observers concede that the early Obama magic has all but evaporated, most pundits continue to write that the Democratic Party decision-makers would not dare deny their failing candidate the nomination at this point.


In large part, African Americans are the explanation. Right around 90 percent of African Americans vote Democratic in general elections (no other constituency in America even comes close in terms of fidelity). Moreover, during this primary season, 90-plus percent of African American Democrats have voted for Barack Obama (over the wife of their former hero, Bill Clinton).

Sub-question: why has Barack Obama been so successful in garnering the African American vote?

Frankly, it is much safer NOT to answer that query in our current political climate. For additional evidence concerning the pitfalls of offering impolitic analysis in this regard, see the strange case of that well-known racist, Bill Clinton, who famously suggested it might be akin to the reason so many African Americans voted for Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988.

The main point: the Democratic Party bigheads are intent on stuffing Obama down our throats, regardless of the trend lines, the revelations, the unfolding primary battle, or the growing sense that this forty-six year-old, half-term senator is not quite ready for the Oval Office.

Or, rather, to put it another way, Americans are belatedly realizing that we don't really know this fellow well enough to invest him with the most important and most powerful office in the history of humanity. We liked what we saw at first blush, but now we are seeing "a side" of him that gives us pause. In other words, we have gone from love at first sight to a fairly rational case of cold feet.

No matter, the Democratic Party brass continues to follow a preset script written during headier times.

Has Barack Obama Finally Become the Affirmative Action Candidate of 2008?

To paraphrase the Helms ad: the need for racial transcendence and keeping peace in the Democratic Party coalition suddenly "makes the color of your skin more important than your qualifications."

Frankly, I expect a backlash at some point. I think we may see it in North Carolina on Tuesday, which coudl derail the Obama train (or perhaps not). The fix may be in so deep at this point in the nomination contest that he is impervious even to humiliating defeat.

No matter, the backlash is out there--and it is going to buffet this race in some fashion.

On the other hand, an Obama victory in North Carolina and Indiana puts all this to bed. If he can beat Mrs. Clinton in a fair fight, it will be easy to see him as Tiger Woods (worthy and fabulous) once again.

But barring a clear victory on the field of battle, the elevation of Obama for all the wrong reasons makes for an exceedingly unappealing message.