The Ferraro flap has left me feeling queasy. Not just because racial polarization is always an ugly thing; not just because the condescension toward a minority is cringe-inducing; not just because these cycles of blame and counter-blame can go on and on and wound more and more ... but because it is inherently corrosive of a multicultural polity, and will, in the long run, benefit no one but those who cannot appeal to the public beyond crass interest group grievance.
The one indisputably positive aspect of the Obama candidacy - to left or right - has been his remarkable ability to make a case for his nomination without relying on this kind of identity politics and victim-mongering. That he doesn't shrink from minority status and pretend that his blackness doesn't matter is not the same thing. His ability to both represent a black man and yet represent a figure beyond a black man is the core of the historic salience of his candidacy. It's why a gay man living in many different worlds feels that Obama can and will move all of us forward. It is why so many with complex identities and revulsion for racial or gender groupthink have been given new hope this time around. It shows that he has actually moved beyond the kind of thinking that lay behind Ferraro's original nomination and the toxic politics of the 1970s left.
I hope this stuff ends soon - and that the Obama camp does not degenerate into constantly being offended, however justified the offense is. Better to remind ourselves of the positive aspects that Obama has allowed for and that his enemies are trying to cloud and pollute. Here's one from almost a year ago that is worth remembering again today:
My favorite moment was a very simple one. [Obama] referred to the anniversary of the March on Selma, how he went and how he came back and someone (I don't remember who now) said to him:
"That was a great celebration of African-American history."
To which Obama said he replied:
"No, no, no, no, no. That was not a great celebration of African-American history. That was a celebration of American history."
When this election is fought on their terms - on grievance and resentment and identity victim-mongering - the bad guys win. We mustn't let them take this moment away from us.