For a while there we could be proud of a political process in which a person of color and a woman were the Democratic Party’s standard bearers with real presidential prospects for the first time in our history. Republicans had a more-of-the-same kind of guy, and his party hadn’t yet gotten its swift boats into the water. The country seemed to have moved beyond the issues of race and gender to focus on national and world concerns.

But something happened on the way to the Democratic nomination; familiar down-and-dirty tactics became an intense part of the Clinton campaign agenda – – some blatant, some subliminal, anything to win. Rational discourse morphed into “gotcha” politics with a media salivating over the conflict, far less committed to examining the basic beliefs and abilities of the candidates. Once again the public was swamped by the politics of peculiar.

For starters Bill dismissed Obama’s run in South Carolina with ‘well Jesse Jackson won there you know’ defining Obama as just another black guy and didn’t white people find Jackson ever so annoying – – two negatives for the price of one. The Clintons denied playing the race card and why was everyone so up in arms about the remarks? But at that moment and after other similar gaffs, as well as the fact that Obama was winning big in some areas, the black vote, once a Clinton sure-thing, began drifting towards Obama.

And so it went, only it got worse. Reverend Wright was factored into every telecast with endless clips from his more outrageous sermons. Questions about Obama’s patriotism were asked rhetorically and to his face. How could he sit in that church for twenty years, why didn’t he wear a flag pin, why did he say those things about grandma? No-one ever asks Clinton or McCain why they don’t wear flag pins. But, apparently something far more devious was going on, and it might not be surprising if the people who question Obama’s church-going habits were the same folks who whisper that he’s a Muslim.

Playing along, Hillary took full advantage of the damage Obama was experiencing by saying that by golly if her pastor spoke as Wright did, she would have left the church. But most people don’t leave churches for such reasons. She might ask many of her Catholic supporters in Pennsylvania and elsewhere why they didn’t find another place of worship when so many priests were discovered abusing young boys or why other worshipers didn’t desert congregations in which various abuses were known to be occurring?

Yet despite his nuttier rants, perhaps un-remarked at the time, Wright was invited to President Clinton’s prayer breakfast in the aftermath of the little blue dress because he was recognized as an important black religious leader. No-one questioned his patriotism or his religious commitment because he was known for his work in the community and because he had served the country in the Navy and the Marines. Somehow the focus now   has become the nutty stuff because after all, “that’s politics”. Just how much of a toll the Wright controversy has taken on Obama will be analyzed in the aftermath of the Indiana and North Caroline primaries, as will the impact of the Clinton gas-tax proposal.

With respect to gas-tax relief it is an astonishingly deceitful gambit. Forget that economists, those “elitists”, and others find it totally without merit and forget how little consumers would actually realize in the final analysis or how devastating the loss of jobs and revenue to the highway fund would be. How, in any case, could such legislation succeed  before the summer or a windfall profits tax to pay for the loss of revenue pass when neither the Congress nor the president are likely to support such measures?  Some pundits say this is just smart politics that is working while Hillary supporters like Congressman Menendez offer up inane rationales for the efficacy of the plan.

Perhaps it was too much to expect that the country had in fact moved beyond its racial animus and its naiveté and that this time the electorate wouldn’t buy into the politics of deception and race baiting. “He’s unelectable” says Hillary about Obama, and most of us know what she means even if she covers up by repeating that she’s won all the “big” states – – some of which will not trend Republican no matter who the candidate is.

Voters say they want truthful leaders – – a point only they can make at a time in our history that requires not just partisanship but political maturity.