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Team Obama deals the race card against Perry

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Any incumbent wants to define his opponent before the opponent defines himself. The Obama campaign seems intent on painting Rick Perry as a Southern white racist -- a tired line of attack that is angering conservatives and inspiring them to rally behind Perry.

Last week, liberal pundits charged Perry with racism, offering no evidence or falsified evidence. While the baseless racism charges surfaced on MSNBC, they might have originated in the Obama campaign.

The MSNBC attacks on Perry were egregious. First, on Monday night, liberal host Ed Schultz ran a clip of Perry in Iowa talking about the national debt. Perry spoke of "that big black cloud that hangs over America -- that debt, that is so monstrous," Perry said. But Schultz cut off the Perry clip before the words "that debt" and asserted flatly, "that black cloud that Perry is talking about is President Barack Obama."

Schultz apologized a day later for his deceptive editing, but he stood by the insinuation Perry is a race-baiter.

Chris Matthews played a similar game Tuesday. Responding to Perry's (occasional) defense of federalism and statement that the Voting Rights Act leads to gerrymandered congressional districts, Matthews said of Perry, "this is going to be Bull Connor with a smile."

In his own half-hearted apology, Matthews asserted that Perry - who appointed Texas's first black Supreme Court Chief justice -- supported school segregation.

This is familiar to the Republican base. Amid the fever swamps of Twitter and Internet message boards, getting called racist for critiquing Obama is the norm. But only after campaign season swung into full force did this tendency become mainstream on the Left.

And this theme of baseless insinuations of racism is emanating from Team Obama and the White House. Obama's press secretary Jay Carney referred to unnamed opponents "who wanted to secede from the union." The words "secede from the union" clearly invoke the Southern states' effort to preserve slavery in 1861.

Politifact has rated Carney's statement as "False," pointing out that Perry once jokingly referred to a supposed right of Texas to secede. He's repeatedly denied actually believing this. That didn't stop Carney. Facts rarely interfere with the Left's effort to tar conservatives as racist.

Robert Gibbs, Carney's predecessor and now an Obama campaign adviser, on TV last Tuesday joked that "Any day now, Rick Perry will ask to see the president's birth certificate."

I could find no record of Perry ever insinuating that Obama wasn't born in the United States. Gibbs was trying to lump Perry in with a racially tinged line of attack on Obama that suggested he was really born in Kenya. By calling Perry a borderline birther, Gibbs was essentially calling Perry a racist.

Rep. Charlie Rangel, a top House Democrat, is on message, too. "The guy from Texas, he's got the highest job accomplishments in the country, Governor Perry, but it's one stage away from slavery, from what I understand the salaries are."

Liberals commonly charge conservative politicians with employing racial "dog-whistle politics": speaking in code to excite white racism while maintaining plausible deniability.

Dog whistles are real -- and Republicans do employ them -- but Carney, Gibbs and Rangel sure look like they are blowing on a dog whistle of their own. Team Obama talks about Perry and birth certificates, secession, and slavery, setting the tone without having to actually charge racism -- they leave that up to the talking heads who hear the whistle.

Obama has not played the race card since 2008, when his stump speech included the assertion that Republican attacks on him would boil down to "and did I mention he's black." But Carney and Gibbs work for Obama, and they're introducing racial ugliness to this race.

Expect a different sort of ugliness if Romney is the nominee. Politico reported that a dozen different Obama officials used the word "weird" to describe the former Massachusetts governor -- it's not a stretch to see this as an anti-Mormon dig.

The irony is that Perry has benefited, in the short term, from this racial politics. Conservatives groan when they see media liberals falsely charging another white conservative with racism. Today, they're rallying behind the Texas governor -- much as Sarah Palin benefited from liberal apoplexy over her that got very personal and unhinged and seemed to focus on her having too many kids.

If we're lucky, Team Obama will decide soon that the race card and the Mormonism card do not make a winning hand.

Timothy P.Carney, The Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears Monday and Thursday, and his stories and blog posts appear on ExaminerPolitics.com.

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