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Michael Sean WintersMarch 13, 2008

Geraldine Ferraro commented that Barack Obama has attained the heights of his political success only because he is black. The comment made me sick to my stomach.

Plenty of articulate, young white politicians have captured the nation’s attention – the Kennedy brothers come to mind – and whatever you think of Obama as a candidate, there is no denying he is a gifted human being. But that is what Ferraro did. All this fuss is just because that lucky fella was born black. Her comments resembled nothing so much as the famous "white hand" ad that North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms ran when he was opposed by the black mayor of Charlotte, Harvey Gantt. A white hand holds a rejection letter and the voice-over says, "You needed that job, but the company had to hire a minority." It was simple, straight-forward race-baiting, stoking resentment, a strategy for defeating progressive politics since Richard Nixon.

Ferraro’s comments raise the same objection: the deserving Hillary needs the nomination, but it is being taken from her because a black guy is being given special treatment. And, if you cannot trace a direct linkage between the genesis of the Helms’ ad and Ferraro’s remarks, let me supply it: Dick Morris, the Clinton’s on-again, off-again political consultant who created that ad for Helms. He may or may not be in touch with the Clintons these days, but his way of thinking has been firmly embedded over the years.

Ferraro’s comments were not aimed at me. I have never lost my job to down-sizing or because the plant at which I worked realized they could get largely the same work done at half the labor cost by moving overseas. I have never lived in a neighborhood disrupted by busing or other failed strategies of integration. And, thanks to the moral education I received from my parents, I have always seen people from different socio-economic, racial or cultural backgrounds as an opportunity to learn about the varieties of human flourishing, not as a threat to my own identity. Her words were aimed at white southerners and white ethnic Catholics whose lives have been disrupted by globalization and out-sourcing and down-sizing, and by the failure of our country and our culture to respond to these economic challenges in humane ways. Her objective was to stroke their resentments.

There is a word for the sentiments Ferraro expressed. Sen. Clinton called them "regrettable" which they surely are. They are also racist and they should be called such, if not by Clinton than by any number of priests and preachers, especially Catholics. The politics of resentment cultivated by Nixon, furthered by Helms, and now articulated by Ferraro is an affront to everything the Church teaches and believes about the human person. It is affront to the courageous participation of countless Catholics in the Civil Rights Movement, people like Cardinal Patrick O’Boyle and Dorothy Day. Sadly, however, the first time I heard the derogatory word "titsun" to describe an African-American, it came from the lips of a Catholic priest. Every black person in America can tell you what it feels like to have your accomplishments questioned by someone of whiter skin and lesser achievement on account of race. As Catholics, we must call this attitude what it is: a sin. And, we should feel especially aggrieved when the person voicing that sin is one of our own.

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