What happened
John McCain’s campaign manager accused Barack Obama of playing “the race card,” after the Democratic presidential hopeful said that McCain and the Republican party were trying to scare voters by pointing out that he, Obama, “doesn’t look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills.” It was the first time race became an overt issue in the Obama-McCain race. (The Washington Post)

What the commentators said
The McCain camp’s snappy “race card” retort was “contemptible, but shrewd,” said The New York Times editorial board in a blog. McCain’s new “bare-knuckled barrage of negative advertising aimed at belittling Mr. Obama” is starting to include some “racially tinged” elements, and McCain's new ploy tries to pin the blame for “the sin of the racial attack” on Obama.

Obama is the one who has “been spoiling to throw out the race charge,” said Rich Lowry in National Review Online. He hopes it will “inhibit all criticism of him." But it could backfire. For Obama, being black is only a “political advantage so long as it is sold in a post-racial context.”

“McCain isn’t race-baiting,” said Marc Ambinder in The Atlantic, but that doesn’t mean that many people aren’t “a little prejudiced” and wary about Obama. And you can tell McCain has “been waiting to use this ‘race card’ card for a while,” because it allowed him to play "the aggrieved victim card."

That’s why Obama is smart to take McCain to task for this “snarling, mean-spirited nonsense,” said Eugene Robinson in RealClearPolitics. If Obama played the race card, as alleged, “he did so, apparently, by being black.” But race isn’t really McCain’s point—it’s merely a way, along with the silly “celebrity” attack theme, to “cast an aura of doubt around Obama” before it's too late.

McCain’s “clumsy” Paris Hilton–Britney Spears ad would have continued to hurt McCain, said David Harsanyi in The Denver Post, if Obama's camp hadn’t “responded with the tired and transparently ridiculous charge of racism.” Obama is black, as he keeps pointing out, but Americans seem more hesitant to elect an old person than a black person—unless, maybe, he accuses them of racist leanings.