The 2008 campaign was remarkably free of racial talk, as the first serious black candidate for president sailed to victory in a largely colorblind campaign that emphasized his personal qualities and proposals.
Obama refrained from making his race an issue, and his opponents mostly left it alone too.
But events in the past week raise concern that race is being inserted into the 2012 campaign, particularly as a means to slander those who attack the president.
Left-leaning members of the mainstream media on numerous times in recent days have made race a part of the political equation, with many raising questions about whether conservatives are racially motivated in their treatment of President Obama.
The introduction of racial issues threatens to create a new and pernicious element of divisiveness that could create racial tensions during the campaign and induce a dangerous racial backlash after it, no matter who wins.
Following Daily Caller reporter Neil Munro’s interruption of President Obama last week in the Rose Garden, there were numerous suggestions in the media – including from veteran reporter Sam Donaldson – that Munro had been motivated by racism, without a shred of evidence indicating this might be the case.
On Sunday, a panel of mostly black reporters were asked by host Roland Martin whether black leaders were doing enough to defend Attorney General Eric Holder, an assumption that race should be a factor in whether to back an attorney general accused of numerous shortcomings and potentially illegal actions.
On Tuesday, in a remark that was hardly noticed – perhaps because such suggestions are now becoming commonplace – MSNBC host Christopher Matthews asked former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown whether House Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa’s treatment of Holder was “ethnic.”
Brown quickly said it was, prompting Matthews to comment that some Republican House members “talk down to the president and his friends.”
As the campaign heats up and attacks in general on Obama become more fierce, such talk of race is only likely to increase. And it could become a useful weapon in the hands of unscrupulous Obama defenders hoping to intimidate the president’s opponents with the threat of being branded as racist.
If charges of racially motivated attacks on the president continue and Obama himself does not move to discredit the charges, he will be complicit in the injection of race into the campaign.