In today's fast-paced media environment, you can generally tell when someone thrust into the public eye has a "negro problem." Take Cliven Bundy, the deadbeat Nevada cattle rancher involved in a tense standoff with the government over his refusal to pay for grazing rights on federal land.
Mr. Bundy showed the extent of his negrophobia in an incredibly ignorant statement at the beginning of one of his daily news conferences: "Let me tell you something about the Negro."
Not to be outdone, Donald Sterling, an octogenarian billionaire who happens to be the owner of an NBA franchise, ordered his 30-year-old biracial girlfriend not to bring black people to Los Angeles Clippers games.
Negrophobia is particularly strong in Mr. Sterling's case, given his track record as a landlord who has been sued by tenants for racial discrimination that was settled for millions of dollars to avoid a trial.
With folks like Mr. Sterling and Mr. Bundy reminding us that old-school racism is still very much with us, the bar has been set pretty high -- or low, depending on one's perspective -- when it comes to publicly shaming racists.
Pennsylvania State Treasurer Rob McCord, who is polling at the bottom of the Democratic gubernatorial primary, is running television ads arguing that front-runner Tom Wolf is damaged goods because in 2001 he managed the mayoral campaign of a man who shouted "white power" during a 1969 riot.
"I'm going to be introducing the words 'racism' and 'character' and 'judgment' into the conversation," Mr. McCord told the Philadelphia Inquirer's editorial board recently. "I'm going to be asking Tom: 'What were you thinking?' What plausible explanation is there?"
As loaded questions go, Mr. McCord's eleventh-hour attempt at painting Mr. Wolf as an enabler of a racist if not necessarily one himself is the moral equivalent of asking someone with a straight face, "When did you stop beating your wife?"
Mr. Wolf is taking fire from his rivals because that's what happens to front-runners with double-digit leads, but he has to be scratching his head over the extent of Mr. McCord's desperation.
In 2001, Mr. Wolf was the honorary campaign chairman for York mayor Charlie Robertson, who was running for re-election. Mr. Robertson was once a police officer in York and reportedly spurred on a white gang to shoot a random car full of black people during a riot, killing 26-year-old Lillie Belle Allen.
Though Mr. Robertson won the mayoral primary, he was arrested on May 17, 2001, on the basis of reports linking him to the killing and his own admission to being a racist as a young cop decades before. It was an ugly situation he blamed on heightened tension caused by the death of a white police officer during the 1969 riot.
Instead of abandoning Mr. Robertson, Mr. Wolf contributed $3,000 to his campaign even after he dropped his re-election bid. It was a symbolic show of support for a candidate who Mr. Wolf believed in despite his infamous past.
Mr. McCord is demagoguing Mr. Wolf on his past association with Mr. Robertson because he is aware of a tendency on the part of many voters to recoil at the first hint of racism.
Mr. McCord -- who never misses an opportunity to remind voters that his wife is African-American and roughly the same age Lillie Belle Allen would've been had she lived -- is playing a very cynical game by injecting race into the conversation.
"That kind of poor judgment doesn't mean somebody's a racist, and I'm certain Tom is not," Mr. McCord said, allowing for the possibility that his opponent isn't "beating his wife" at that moment at least. It is the kind of odious passive construction that makes modern politics such a drag for anyone with a conscience.
Although Mr. McCord has little chance of erasing Mr. Wolf's lead with such a nonsensical accusation, it is bound to resonate with inattentive voters. Accusing someone of palling around with racists is tantamount to accusing that person of racism these days.
There is nothing in Mr. Wolf's background that supports even the most specious claim that he is sympathetic to racists or racism. Though he is a millionaire, leading a company with hundreds of employees, he never has been sued for racial bias or discrimination. He's not writing $2 million checks to the federal government to avoid going to trial for racial bias.
For crying wolf, Mr. McCord's own tactics and past associations deserve the kind of scrutiny he would impose on others. God bless him for having a black wife, but relying on the ties of matrimony to shield him from criticism sounds a little racist to me.
Tony Norman: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1631; Twitter: @TonyNormanPG.