The racist terror attack on the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina has revived debates over gun control and the Confederate flag, but has also intensified the roiling issue of racism that has been building since the unrest in Ferguson, and the near-weekly incidents that have followed it. While the acceptable Republican line on racism and the Charleston shooting has been "Racism? What's that?", a Democratic candidate for the presidency ought to be a little bit better prepared for the question.
On Friday's Morning Joe, former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley was asked about the issues surrounding the shooting, and while he had a lot to say about gun control and mental health, he put up a big, fat goose-egg when asked how to tackle the issue of racism:
Martin O'Malley: "From the reports I read, and let's be honest with one another, the facts are still evolving here. I mean it would appear that the racial motivation was certainly a big part of what happened here."
Guest: "How do we address things like that?"
Martin O'Malley: "We do it by -- we do it by acknowledging the racial legacy that we share as Americans. And I don't know exactly how we -- how we-- how we address this, Walter. I mean, look, we -- as Americans, we all share a very painful racial legacy. And we need to acknowledge it and we need to take actions to heal it. I don't think anybody figured out the magic solution to that."
First off, let's get something straight: enough of the facts are in to conclude that racial motivation was certainly every part of what happened here. That instinct toward caution might seem reasonable, if weak, but it wasn't present when Scarborough asked about mental health, and it certainly didn't stop O'Malley rival Hillary Clinton from calling the attack what it was.
But much worse than that is how O'Malley's utter inability to answer the followup question demonstrated that not only did he have no idea how to combat racism, he hadn't even thought about it. His entry into the Democratic primary race was already marred by the unrest in Baltimore, and further damaged by his refusal to address his part in the policing problems there. If O'Malley's aim is to not get a single black vote, he's well on his way.
On the other hand, maybe his aim is to push more black votes Hillary Clinton's way, because where O'Malley whiffed, Clinton has already been campaigning. Of course no one has a "magic solution" to end racism, but the right answer for a Democrat to give, in that situation, is "Where do I start?" The policies that create, enable, and validate second-class citizenship are as numerous as they are stubborn.
Obvious things like criminal justice and police reform, economic policies like raising the minimum wage, and voting rights have already been the subjects of major campaign speeches by Clinton, but in a pinch, O'Malley could have even just cribbed from President Obama's remarks from Thursday. "(W)e must be concerned not merely with who murdered them," President Obama said, "but about the system, the way of life, philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American dream."
Barring those answers, though, literally anything would have been better than O'Malley's stumbling response, because the only thing worse than being clueless about race is showing that you're not even looking for a clue.