Shaker Abby, however, emails a comment that's insightful and spot-on:
I've been thinking about the recent McCain ad - the one with Paris and Britney in it - and some of the conservative reactions to the ad and to Obama's reactions to the ad. It occurred to me that this could be a strategy to poke at Obama with "hidden" racism (the kind that doesn't fit the conservative framework on the topic, which believes that most racism is eliminated and that which remains is the fault of individual bad actors, not systems or institutions) and forcing him to call that racism out. At that point, the conservatives can then turn around and accuse Obama of being "too sensitive" and "hysterical" and "unable to take a joke" - accusations that we've heard leveled at feminists and disability rights advocates, etc. Of course, the underlying racist message will still get out, allowing McCain to have his racist cake and make fun of Obama for being too sensitive to racism at the same time.Indeed. Useful, aren't they—those conservative dog whistles…?
…I do think McCain sees it as a bonus that the underlying racist message will be disseminated and may influence some people, but it seems like the main purpose of the ad could have been to force Obama to respond to its racism so that he could then be marginalized. (If he's so upset about a campaign ad, he's clearly too sensitive to deal with world issues! He can't take any criticism at all without complaining that it's racism!) See, for example, this post on The Corner: "If nothing else, the 'Celeb' ad forced Obama into a major error yesterday [by forcing him to disclaim it as racism]". And this one: "It's clear he's going to play the race card all the way to November, and maybe beyond. If you criticize him, you're a racist, to one degree or another. Obama is the uncriticizable, unopposable candidate: If you breathe a word against him, you must don the scarlet R (for you know what)."
While a clever technique, it seems to be a pretty morally bereft tactic.
The sad thing is that I'm quite certain many of the GOP operatives who will sing the "he sees racism everywhere he looks" and "any criticism will be called racism" songs don't even realize they're being played like fiddles. Their ignorance of how racist dog whistles function makes them useful tools, despite their undoubted certainty they're just callin' it like they see it. They don't even grasp how their own privilege turns them into the damn dogs.