A salty old lawyer, who’s now arguing before that appellate court in the sky, once bragged of his favorite trial tool. We were unwinding after court (as I’ve disclosed in this column before, I used to practice law) and the war stories, along with my beer and his scotch, flowed freely. He called his favorite trial tool “the hot poker.” “You ask a question you know is entirely objectionable, entirely out-of-bounds. But just asking the question is enough to rile the jury, get them prejudiced forever against your opponent. You throw out the question at the right moment, when you need it most. Heads in the jury box snap to attention. Opposing counsel jumps to object. The judge glowers at you, sustains the objection, and you contritely withdraw the question.“It’s like sticking a hot poker up the other guy’s rear end. Just because the judge ordered you to pull it out doesn’t mean it stops hurting like all hell.”Geraldine Ferraro has been Hillary Clinton’s hot poker. Clinton desperately needs Pennsylvania. It’s a big state, with large liberal blocs of Democrats and significant Black populations in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. In the middle is deer hunting country. It’s a state of white, ethnic row-house Democrats in dying manufacturing towns. They are industrious, proud and family-oriented. They are instinctively conservative. Many of them carry a chip on their shoulders, believing their hard work, their perserverance against adversity and their playing by the rules have gone unappreciated and “the other guy” has received preferential treatment. “Affirmative action” is to them a four-letter word that explains many of their problems. Pennsylvania is filled with these resentful Democrats.It’s been years since I worked campaigns for Pennsylvania’s late Republican U.S. Sen. John Heinz and Democratic Gov. Bob Casey. But my family and extended families are still there. Pennsylvania remains pretty much the same as when Terry Bradshaw was getting concussions for the Steelers and Sylvester Stallone was jogging on Ninth Street in Philly. Pennsylvania doesn’t attract that many new people. It has an older population than Florida. As long as Joe Paterno coaches the Nittany Lions, nothing much will have changed in the Keystone State.The Pennsylvania primary is April 22. It is yet another must-win for Hillary Clinton. The Black vote is predictable. The battleground is the Reagan Democrats, the unemployed mill workers, the old-line union voters and their grandchildren. The fight is for the resentful Democrats.Enter Geraldine Ferraro. Her racist rants against Barack Obama were not symptoms of political Tourette’s syndrome. The liberal blogosphere has proven that she was taste-testing her venom on Fox News weeks before it spilled across the larger media stage.Ferraro was giving voice to the nasty feelings of Pennsylvania’s resentful Democrats. Never mind that Obama got through Harvard Law School on his own power and brilliance. Never mind that he has taken on the largest political machine in the history of the Democratic Party and outrun them every time they’ve cranked up the pace. No, according to Ferraro, he got where he is because of affirmative action, because he’s Black.When she encountered the anticipated condemnation, Ferraro fell back upon the next layer of resentment disorder: She was being criticized just because she’s white. It is all about political correctness, folks. You know the way it is. (Wink, wink.) That’s what we have to put up with as white people in America today. You can’t even tell the truth if the truth hurts Blacks (or Mexicans, or women, or another scapegoat of choice). Clinton did not immediately condemn Ferraro or demand Ferraro retract her comments. Clinton played the innocent bystander, wringing her hands at the ugliness of the world. Only after the drama played out did Clinton apologize to Black Democrats. But she did so again without directly condemning Ferraro, just as she’s danced around racial flare-ups lit by her own husband.Obama handled this ugly matter with presidential grace. He did not climb down into the gutter but diplomatically dismissed Ferraro’s views as factually implausible. Racial hatred has been a menace to this nation. More Black men have been lynched than Americans killed on 9/11. Washington, D.C. still has vacant lots where businesses burned in race riots. Presidential leadership demands handling all threats to our nation’s peace. Obama more than Clinton has shown he is ready for this test. When a speaker at an Ohio rally attempted to stir vile passions by mocking Obama’s middle name, John McCain immediately and unambiguously condemned the demagoguery. Ironically, McCain will be the nominee of the party Democrats accuse of racial insensitivity. But it is Hillary Clinton who hems and haws, giving the hot poker of racism time to do its damage.
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