CNN commentator Jack Cafferty, on Thursday’s The Situation Room, found racist overtones to the recent McCain campaign ad comparing the hype surrounding vapid celebrities like Paris Hilton and Britney Spears to the hype surrounding Barack Obama: "I think it's very much playing the race card to put a highly educated, articulate, middle-aged black family man into a television commercial with two blonde bimbo airheads with a combined I.Q. of a box of cereal. And if you have any doubts about what I'm talking about, it's the same kind of thing that was done to Harold Ford down in Tennessee in 2006 and it stinks. It's more subtle, but it stinks just the same."
Cafferty was referring to the spot the RNC ran against Harold Ford in the 2006 Tennessee Senate race which made light of how Ford appeared at Super Bowl party thrown by Playboy magazine in 2005. In the ad, an attractive young blonde joked about how she met Ford at the Playboy bash, and asked him to call her. Liberals reacted harshly to the supposed racist insinuation made by the ad. The NAACP condemned it as a "a powerful innuendo that plays to pre-existing prejudices about African-American men and white women."
The comment came during a panel discussion with CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger and Tara Wall of The Washington Times. Wall objected to Cafferty’s notion: "You know, look, that's a stretch. There's going to be a lot of time in this campaign to dissect whether something is racist or not. It is too early for these kind of shenanigans. This is -- this is ridiculous.... When there are legitimate claims of racism -- you know, this is like crying wolf. Let's put it into perspective here. It was a light-hearted ad that Obama himself reacted to in a light-hearted manner."
Later, after the panel discussed Obama’s "presidents on the dollar bills remarks," Cafferty returned to the issue of ads. When Wall repeated her point about the "light" nature of the McCain ad, the CNN commentator reacted harshly: "There was nothing making light about it. There was nothing funny about that commercial.... Go watch the Harold Ford stuff."
The transcript of the relevant portions of the panel discussion, which began at the bottom of the 6 pm Eastern hour of Thursday’s The Situation Room:
WOLF BLITZER: Senator Barack Obama is accusing the McCain camp of taking the low road with negative ads, and the McCain campaign is now accusing Senator Obama of playing the race card. It doesn't get more poisonous than this. Let's discuss with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; our own Jack Cafferty; and Tara Wall of The Washington Times. They're all part of the best political team on television. I want to play this little exchange, Jack, that John King had with John McCain just a little while ago. I'll play the clip right now.
JOHN KING: Your campaign manager says he's playing the race card by saying that, by saying that you're trying to scare people and make them think this guy doesn't look like past presidents. Is that a fair criticism for Rick Davis to say the Barack Obama is playing the race card?
MCCAIN: It is. I'm sorry to say that it is. It's legitimate, and we don't -- there's no place in this campaign for that. There's no place for it and we shouldn't be doing it.
KING: They say that's not the case.
MCCAIN: Okay, John. Okay.
KING: Senator, thank you. I appreciate it.
MCCAIN: I'll let the American people judge.
BLITZER: All right, Jack, you're part of the American people, what do you judge?
CAFFERTY: Well, I think the McCain campaign better be careful about, you know, living in glass houses and throwing stones, and here's why I say that. I think it's very much playing the race card to put a highly educated, articulate, middle-aged black family man into a television commercial with two blonde bimbo airheads with a combined I.Q. of a box of cereal. And if you have any doubts about what I'm talking about, it's the same kind of thing that was done to Harold Ford down in Tennessee in 2006 and it stinks. It's more subtle, but it stinks just the same.
BLITZER: We heard a similar complaint earlier, Tara, from Donna Brazile. They think it was a racial overtone in that ad with Paris Hilton and Britney Spears --
TARA WALL: Oh, come on.
BLITZER: -- comparing them to Senator Obama.
WALL: You know, look, that's a stretch. There's going to be a lot of time in this campaign to dissect whether something is racist or not. It is too early for these kind of shenanigans. This is -- this is ridiculous. I mean let -- are we going to pick apart every single ad to pick apart if there's a white person, a black person, a yellow person? The McCain campaign did one thing this morning and that is get on the offensive and say -- get on the defensive and defend themselves and say listen, you know, enough of this. We -- you know, Barack Obama is above putting -- he is the candidate. He doesn't need to draw in voters by saying they're going to make me look like the boogeyman, they're going to -- because they say that I'm inexperienced, that equals them saying that, you know, he's black --
BLITZER: All right --
WALL: And, you know, they're racist. That's -- that does not equate to the same thing. When there are legitimate claims of racism -- you know, this is like crying wolf. Let's put it into perspective here. It was a light-hearted ad that Obama himself reacted to in a light-hearted manner.
BLITZER: All right....
CAFFERTY: Let me ask you a question. Is it all right, then, to do commercials about the fact John McCain doesn't know the difference between Sunnis and Shias, that Joe Lieberman has to whisper --
WALL: Hey, that's --
CAFFERTY: -- in his ear in a foreign country and correct him on an issue that he's been running his entire campaign on, which is how qualified he is to be commander-in-chief? Is that a fair commercial to put on the air?
WALL: Well, absolutely, it's fair, if that's a legitimate issue to raise. If people have concerns about his judgment because of those -- those particular issues, why -- why not? It is fair game. I mean are they just more, you know, outraged because John McCain is making light of some things that, you know, some people find amusing? And, again --
CAFFERTY: You keep --
WALL: Barack Obama himself --
CAFFERTY: You keep saying he was making light.
WALL: -- was not too offended.
CAFFERTY: There was nothing making light about it. There was nothing funny about that commercial.
BORGER: And --
CAFFERTY: Go watch the Harold Ford stuff.
WALL: I watched the Harold Ford stuff, which was also legitimate.
BLITZER: All right.
WALL: And I did think the --
BLITZER: All right, guys.
WALL: The celebrity one -- listen, it did not -- I've seen racist ads and this does not rise to the level of racism.
BLITZER: All right, guys.
WALL: That's absurd. That's just all the liberal bloggers are talking about this.
BLITZER: Gloria, button it up because we've got to go.
BORGER: Thank you, Wolf. You know, this is about the McCain campaign trying to break through. It hasn't been able to break through, and what we've seen in the last week or two is a campaign that's been increasingly aggressive and tough and negative. From John McCain saying that Barack Obama would rather lose a war than an election, to this recent issue over race, they're getting aggressive because they feel like they're not breaking through.
BLITZER: All right. We'll leave it right there. Gloria, Tara, thanks to both of you.