It is undeniably racist to portray the front runner in the Democratic primary as some sort of novelty candidate, whose only real appeal derives from his racial heritage. If a high-profile member of the Obama camp had said the same of Clinton with regard to gender, there would be no pondering over whether the comments were sexist--they would be immediately condemned.
The fact that Ferraro and other members of the Clinton team seemed so genuinely baffled by all of this--with Ferraro going so far as to accuse the Obama camp of racism--is disturbing, particularly after Bill Clinton's inane allusion to Jesse Jackson during the South Carolina contest.
In reality, Obama's race has been both a boon and an obstacle to his success. The same is true of Clinton's gender. While both Obama and Clinton have received additional media attention because of the "historic" nature of their candidacies, a considerable (and roughly equivalent) number of Americans seem to harbor reservations about supporting an African-American or a female.
So, Ferraro's remarks were irresponsible and ill-informed. But do they really belie a pattern of race-baiting on the part of the Clinton campaign?
Frankly, I hope so. I can deal with the notion that the Clintons are shameless and amoral--that they have no qualms about using race as a wedge to divide their party. But if they honestly believe that these kinds of statements are innocent, then they are completely out of touch with the realities of American life and American politics.
And that is far, far scarier.