I steer clear of cable news, much the way I try to avoid toxic fumes or rabid dogs. But Jon Stewart's recent anthology of clips featuring the idio-punditocracy's use of "card" to describe every tactic by either campaign – culminating, of course, with McCain's playing of the "race card," helped me realize something.
The "race card" has virtually nothing to do with defining Obama and everything to do with McCain defining himself.
David Gergen's already famous observation that McCain's bizarre "The One" ad was a dog-whistle to the racist right has been largely misconstrued, I think. To the dolts on the Sunday talk shows, this means McCain is defining Obama as an outsider. As a black man.
But that's just silly. The racists, covert and overt, to whom the McCain camp is appealing hardly need to be told that Obama is black. Nor do they need to have their fear of a black president codified in cryptic TV ads featuring 50-year-old clips of Chuck Heston. They already know how they feel about Obama, and it's pretty much how they feel about any dark-skinned person who presumes to step into a position of authority.
What they may not know is how to feel about John McCain.
These ads (and whatever nasty shit McCain's surrogates are stirring up with flyers, push polls, e-mail smears, etc.) are about defining McCain as racist-approved. White-power certified. A good ol' boy who's standing up to, um, well, you know who.
Because the GOP cannot win an election without the racist vote.
This is John McCain quietly saying, "Don't worry, I'm one of you. A racist."
Of course it has to be done discreetly, to give the candidate deniability. Just as Dubya is always ready with a smiley platitude about Dr. King even as his underlings wage war on anyone who doesn't belong to the GOP country club.
John McCain is defining himself. The villagers just haven't gotten it yet.