Obama, appeasement and the race baiters

It's no secret why this White House flees from racial controversy. But for his sake and ours, Obama must confront the appeals to America's worst instincts.

Robert Shrum

In 1972, Edmund Muskie, a liberal Senator from Maine and the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, sparked headlines when he said he couldn’t consider Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley for vice president because the country wasn’t ready for a “black” in the White House. The squall passed because it was understood that Muskie had only blundered into speaking the impolitic truth.

A similar truth had been spoken among Democratic Party leaders in 1960. Old enough to recall the bigotry-soaked rejection of Catholic Al Smith's presidential bid a generation before, they worried that John F. Kennedy, another Catholic, would fail the same religious test. Kennedy eked out a first-run ballot victory at the Democratic Convention because he had swept the primary contests, leaving the party with a stark choice between acceding to his nomination or alienating Catholics wholesale — an even more certain road to defeat.

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Robert Shrum has been a senior adviser to the Gore 2000 presidential campaign, the campaign of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and the British Labour Party. In addition to being the chief strategist for the 2004 Kerry-Edwards campaign, Shrum has advised thirty winning U.S. Senate campaigns; eight winning campaigns for governor; mayors of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and other major cities; and the Democratic Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. Shrum's writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The New Republic, Slate, and other publications. The author of No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner (Simon and Schuster), he is currently a Senior Fellow at New York University's Wagner School of Public Service.