That gnarly old double standard is alive and well in these United States. Apologists like Pat Buchanan defend Geraldine Ferraro’s racially charged comments about Barack Obama’s great good fortune at being black while running for president. On the other hand Obama is called upon by Hillary Clinton, the right-wing media and whoever else decides to climb on the bandwagon to repudiate, reject and renounce supporters who offend the sensibilities of political opponents and most especially white America. In any case, Obama has repeatedly renounced the fiery rhetoric of Pastor Wright although his memories of the kind of message he used to hear from his minister are of a kinder, gentler, more Christian if you will, sort.

Yet some highly offensive speech is never condemned by a Republican Party that courts support from its right-wing evangelical base. That old straight shooter, John McCain, who once referred to far-right religious leaders as “agents of intolerance”, undertook to mend fences with the likes of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson when he decided to run for president again. It didn’t seem to matter that Falwell and Robertson, in a cozy TV get-together, concurred that gays, feminists, abortionists, and the ACLU bore responsibility for the attacks on 9/11, having brought forth, the wrath of God.

More recently endorsement of McCain by John Hagee, Pastor of the Cornerstone Megachurch in Texas, while it engendered protests from various quarters, has not met with the vitriol unleashed by anti-Obama forces regarding Reverend Wright, retired minister of the church Obama attends in Chicago. And though he has repudiated and was not present to hear the inflammatory rhetoric in some of Wright’s sermons, Obama critics are using his association with Wright over the years as a way of questioning his legitimacy as a candidate and, oddly, his judgment.

The reaction to Iowa Republican Representative Steve King’s fringe perspective seems ever so much more subdued. His comment that “radical Islamists will be dancing in the streets if Obama wins” has elicited its share of criticism to be sure, but the fact that McCain simply said he ‘didn’t agree’ wasn’t quite the resounding denunciation one might have expected nor should other King opinions have gone unremarked – – that, for instance, the abusive incidents at Abu Graib resembled “hazing” and that in his afterlife, Zarqawi would likely discover those “72 virgins” would “all look like Helen Thomas”.

As for Hagee McCain said he welcomes his endorsement without endorsing all of his views although it is quite possible he kind of likes the idea behind some of them, if his  bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran to the tune of the Beach Boys’ Barbara Ann is any indication. For Hagee has suggested that the U.S. should join Israel in “a pre-emptive strike against Iran to fulfill God’s plan for both Israel and the West.” (Pastor Strangelove, by Sarah Rosen in The American Prospect, 5/21/2006)

And then there is his broadside directed at the Catholic Church, calling it “the great whore” and “a cult”. However when Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic, raised objections to those remarks McCain characterized her criticism as an “attack” but nevertheless tried to take a stronger stand regarding Hagee. In that side-stepping form of apology utilized recently by Hillary Clinton, McCain used the “if” word to the effect that “if they [Hagee’s comments] are anti-Catholic or offensive to Catholics he repudiated them. How “if” can be used in this context is more than a little puzzling since it would be next to impossible not to find remarks of this sort about anyone’s religion offensive in the extreme. But then one must be so careful not to offend one’s supporters – – at least in certain cases.

It is an obvious and unfortunate fact that race, gender and religion remain deeply ingrained features of our national debate. It is regrettable that they are used in such duplicitous and slanted ways – – divisive components of a political dynamic in which old habits of discrimination and unequal treatment die hard.