What if McCain (not Hillary) turned to race?

At the risk of jeopardizing my status as a political conservative, I must confess this peccadillo: I maintain an abiding admiration for The New York Times.

Now, I know that according to the gospel of talk radio, conservatives are supposed to hate The Times. But I find the Gray Lady covers national and world news with authority and reverence. Her prose not only informs me, it quite often elevates me. In short, it’s the finest newspaper in the world.

That’s my professional opinion. As always, take it or leave it.

However, when it comes to commenting on the news of the day, The New York Times often leaves me scratching my head. Are the opinion writers at The Times intellectually honest enough to rain righteous indignation on the heads of ideological foe … and friend? Or, do they pull punches?

Based on The Times’ tepid rebuke so far of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s disgusting politics of racism, I gotta wonder.

After losing the North Carolina primary, which pretty much reduced Clinton’s hope of the Democratic nomination to a Hail-Mary plea to superdelegates, Hillary and her surrogates began to articulate — and still do so today — an openly racial argument.

They admit she will lose the popular vote and lose the delegate count to Sen. Barack Obama. Nevertheless, they argue, Hillary is best suited to lead Democrats this fall because she appeals to white voters in the “swing states” that historically make the difference between winning and losing the White House.

Hillary’s exact quote, as reported in USA Today:

“Sen. Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans is weakening again.”

Forget about the fact that this sounds as if she’s suggesting white folks are hard-working and black people are not. That may just be awkward phrasing on Clinton’s part. What cannot be overlooked, however, is the clear and ongoing racial appeal articulated by Hillary herself.

Instead of blistering Hillary for engaging in such a tactic, all The Times has managed to do so far is to issue a ho-hum editorial warning that it would be a “terrible mistake” for her to press her candidacy by continuing to use tactics with “disturbing racial undertones.”

Undertones?

If The New York Times editorial writers were reading their own newspaper, they’d know that we’re way beyond undertones here. This is out-and-out pandering for votes by skin color. Somehow a finger wag and an admonition to be careful in the future seem strangely inadequate.

It looks to me as if somebody in authority over at the opinion pages at The Times has let his biases get the best of him. Look, I understand that Hillary was endorsed by The Times editorial board. Nobody likes to see his chosen candidate devolve before his eyes. But what the Clinton campaign is doing is clearly dangerous behavior on the national political stage. And it’s not the first time that the Clintons have stooped to race for political advantage in this campaign. The New York Times and righteous Democrats should have roasted Hillary for it.

Instead, Sen. Clinton has been rewarded. She won West Virginia Democratic voters going away, as The Times reported, with “a strong racial component (that suggests) Mr. Obama would face pockets of significant resistance if he does become the first black nominee of the party.”

No kidding. And where’s The New York Times editorial board in the aftermath of West Virginia?

Well, not a word’s been written. The Times has offered readers opinions on Lebanon, tax rebates for illegal immigrants and the retirement of tennis star Justine Henin. But on the topic of Hillary’s ongoing politics of race — nada.

Maybe this weekend the venerable Gray Lady will come out with big guns firing against overt racism in the Democratic primaries. I hope so.

In the meanwhile, I can’t help but wonder whether The Times might have immediately, and forcefully, roared in righteous indignation had this been Sen. John McCain singling out “white” Americans to vote for him over “the black” candidate.

Do you think?

Sherman Frederick (sfrederick@ reviewjournal.com) is president of Stephens Media and publisher of the Review-Journal.

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