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[Jon Henke]

First, Matt Stoller claimed that McCain's speech in Meridian, MS was a "racist dogwhistle" because a civil rights worker who had been murdered in a completely different Mississippi city had been born in Meridian. Never mind that Meridian is "not far from the naval air station where McCain once served as a naval flight instructor and McCain Field is named for his grandfather, a Navy admiral and native Mississippian."

Now, Matt Yglesias argues that McCain's emphasis on his biography is "the best way I can think of to try to take advantage of older people's potential discomfort with the idea of a woman or a black man in the White House that doesn't involve exploiting racism or sexism in a discreditable way. McCain's putting together an identity politics counter-narrative steeped in nostalgia..."

(Sigh)

So that's it, then? Democrats - whether due to paranoia or calculation - are going to see racism under every rock, and they're going to exploit the hell out of it. This, as long as political points can be scored for it, will be our "conversation about race." That won't exactly help heal, ease or erase racial problems, but that doesn't seem to be the goal of such accusations.

I hope I'm wrong, but I fear the paranoia is just too deep and the temptation just too much to avoid that sort of thing. There is, of course, real racism in America and it deserves our swift public scorn...but "racist" is not a term to be thrown about lightly and without substantial evidence. Its overuse can only exacerbate real racial problems.

UPDATE: I've just discovered that Matt Stoller has acknowledged that he "was probably wrong on this incident, it doesn't look like a dogwhistle." I'm very glad to see it.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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