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Commentary: Race-baiting wrong, but so is over-reaction

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  • Brown: McCain must denounce those highlighting Obama's "foreign" name
  • Obama supporters shouldn't make issue of McCain's "that one" comment, she says
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By Campbell Brown
CNN
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Editor's note: Campbell Brown anchors CNN's "Campbell Brown: Election Center" at 8 p.m. ET Mondays through Fridays. She delivered this commentary during the "Cutting through the Bull" segment of Wednesday night's broadcast.

Campbell Brown says race is an unavoidable issue in the campaign, but both sides should be careful.

Campbell Brown says race is an unavoidable issue in the campaign, but both sides should be careful.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Look everybody, we all know we are in uncharted territory here. Never before has there been an African-American presidential nominee. So without question, race is going to be a part of the conversation.

Race-baiting doesn't have to be and yet it is happening in this campaign. Twice this week, surrogates for Republican candidate Sen. John McCain have made a point of calling Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama, Barack "Hussein" Obama.

The implication here is clear. It's foreign sounding. It's Muslim sounding. It's un-American sounding. It's dangerous-sounding. What it is, is race-baiting. And that is what is dangerous.

Inciting crowds, encouraging their angry outbursts, McCain supporters shouting "treason" and "terrorist" about Obama at these rallies -- that's dangerous. Earlier in the campaign, McCain denounced this stuff. He strongly denounced it. And today it requires a stronger response, a much stronger denunciation than a campaign-generated paper statement. Video Watch Campbell Brown 'Cut Through The Bull' on Election Center »

But let's also be careful here and use our heads. Some Obama supporters on the left are up in arms over something McCain said at the debate Tuesday night -- when he referred to Obama as, "that one."

'No bias, no bull'
Get the latest on the presidential race on "Campbell Brown: Election Center"
8 p.m. ET Monday-Friday on CNN

McCain: It was an energy bill on the floor of the senate, loaded down with goodies. Billions for the oil companies. And it was sponsored by Bush and Cheney. You know who voted for it? Might never know. That one.

Some people have interpreted that comment as having racial undertones. Give me a break.

I can hear my grandfather talking about one of his kids or grandkids as "that one." He used it a lot. Maybe it's a generational thing. Maybe it wasn't a term of endearment the way it was when my grandfather used it. Maybe McCain did mean to be disrespectful. But racist? I don't think so.

You know, we should be holding these candidates accountable for what they say during this campaign and hope that in these final days they do try to maintain a little dignity. But we've also got to check ourselves. We've got a responsibility, too, to not get over-heated. What we say matters, too.

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Whoever wins this election, we are all going to have to rally around that person. Given what is happening to our economy, all that is going on in this country right now, none of us wants the next president to be a failure, whoever he may be. Do we?

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

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