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Farrakhan's Pennsylvania Admirer

By Colbert I. King
Saturday, April 26, 2008

The old Irving Berlin tune "The Song Is Ended (But the Melody Lingers On)" captures the aftermath of Pennsylvania's Democratic primary -- with a twist. The contest is, indeed, over. But the tune that's slow in parting is more of a sour note than a sweet sound.

It's not that the outcome was disturbing. Hillary Clinton's double-digit victory was forecast weeks ago. She also achieved a key objective: raising doubts about Barack Obama's electability in November.

No, for me, the unpleasant tone that lingers is the exit poll in which 1 in 10 white Pennsylvania voters said a candidate's race mattered. Those voters went with Clinton by a proportion of 3 to 1.

Clinton's top strategist, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, said something like that could happen.

In a February meeting with members of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial board, Rendell said that some whites in his state "are probably not ready to vote for an African American candidate."

To buttress his point, Rendell observed that he won his 2006 gubernatorial contest against Republican Lynn Swann by more than 3 to 2. Rendell said he probably gained an additional five percentage points because Swann is black. (Swann, a Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Famer, was the first African American from a major political party to run for governor in Pennsylvania.)

Which gets us back to that exit poll.

It suggests that whether a tax-cutting, fiscally conservative African American Republican named Swann or an Ivy League-educated, upwardly mobile black Democratic U.S. senator named Obama is on the ballot, some whites, as Rendell warned, can't get past his color. And that's the case although black Pennsylvanians have historically and consistently marked their ballots for white candidates.

That sad exit-poll result, however, didn't come close to matching, in impact, the political deception displayed during the campaign.

Recall last week's ABC debate in Philadelphia and the way Clinton managed to link Nation of Islam minister Louis Farrakhan and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright to Obama.

No Clinton mistake there. Wright and Farrakhan are toxic to many voters. Suggesting that Obama and the two men are as close as pages in a book virtually seals the Illinois senator's fate with large voting blocs.

But here's where it gets a little scuzzy.

Among all of the top Democrats intimately involved in the Pennsylvania primary, which would you say has had the coziest relationship with Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam?

It's not Barack Obama.

The individual who has shared a podium with Farrakhan and has publicly praised the Nation of Islam the loudest is the person most responsible for organizing, mobilizing and delivering the Pennsylvania vote to Hillary Clinton: her close friend and trusted political counselor Ed Rendell.

That Rendell and the Nation of Islam have something going is beyond doubt.

Go to the video on YouTube:

See Rendell standing at the lectern with Farrakhan seated near him.

Listen to the applause from a packed audience, many men in dark suits and bow ties, as Rendell tells Farrakhan how his respect for Philadelphia's Nation of Islam minister Rodney Muhammad "has grown" and how much he respects Muhammad "for the intensity of his beliefs, for the decency of his soul, and for the strength of his courage."

Observe Farrakhan nodding in approval as Rendell says, "I'd like to thank the Nation of Islam here in Philadelphia . . . for what you stand for and . . . for all the good it does for so many people in Philadelphia."

Cheer (or boo) along with the audience as Rendell lauds the Nation of Islam as "a faith that doesn't just talk about family values, it lives family values."

There's more.

The rally took place in 1997 after racial turmoil in the Grays Ferry neighborhood of Philadelphia. The Nation of Islam had threatened to assemble 5,000 people to march through Grays Ferry. But it relented at the request of then-Mayor Rendell.

In a two-page letter to Farrakhan, Rendell pledged to speak at an alternative interfaith and interracial rally. The mayor also said he would denounce "the racism of all kinds that exists in our city and other American cities as well." That pledge brought Farrakhan to the rally.

This incident isn't cited to condemn Rendell. His decision to head off the march probably spared the city a lot of heartache.

But consider what the Clinton camp and the media have put Obama through because of Farrakhan's unsolicited endorsement.

Did Clinton demand that Rendell "denounce" or "reject" his association with Farrakhan? Did she condition her cooperation with the governor on his distancing himself from the Nation of Islam?

Can a mule whistle?

Clinton simply demonstrated her uncanny ability to condemn someone for behavior that is more applicable to her own camp. Some might call that hypocrisy; others, unmitigated gall. She calls it winning.

Obama, on the other hand, can't play the victim. He needs to take to heart another tune. Billy Ocean's 1985 hit: "When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going."

kingc@washpost.com

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