I’ve been struggling with how to write about the Geraldine Ferraro and Reverend Wright incidents. They both involve difficult and complex issues that aren’t always going to be fairly explored by people viewing race and gender solely through a lens of candidate advocacy, and that makes the climate for discussing them difficult.

I was very impressed with what Obama had to say on that front:

Obama: I do think there is an overlap in the sense that there is a generational shift that is taking place and has constantly taken pace in our society. And Rev. Wright is somebody who came of age in the 60s. And so like a lot of African-American men of fierce intelligence coming up in the ’60s he has a lot of the language and the memories and the baggage of those times. And I represent a different generation with just a different set of life experiences, and so see race relations in just a different set of terms than he does, as does Otis Moss, who is slightly younger than me. And so the question then for me becomes what’s my relationship to that past?

You know, I can completely just disown it and say I don’t understand it, but I do understand it. I understand the context with which he developed his views but also can still reject unequivocally. . .

Tribune: You reject his views, you won’t reject the man. Is that it?

Obama: Yeah, exactly. And this is where the connection comes in. I mean, I do think that Geraldine Ferraro, the lens through which she looks at race, is different. . . . She’s grown up in different times. The Queens that she grew up in is, I’m sure, a different place than it was then. Just as Chicago is a different place than it was then.

Obama casts Wright and Ferraro as people whose evolution and politics have root in a different time. He shows both vision and leadership in this analysis. And those who would rather take the discussion into "candidate surrogate gotcha" are, I think, doing so at all our peril.

I watch the TV these days and I see that the image of the Democratic party is quickly morphing from the party of economic justice or the party that will get us out of Iraq into the party that wants to return to the identity politics wars of the 70s. Because the Democrats have largely sat back and been content to watch the Republicans self-destruct rather than step out in a leadership position on issues that could have positively defined them, they’re vulnerable to being cast thusly. It’s a big turn-off to most Americans that shrewd GOP political operatives and cooperative media have been quick to seize upon.

Talking about race and gender is important. Finding a way to do so responsibly, with appropriate context — and not simply as a way to tear each other down — is equally important. A failure to do so may find us looking at a resurgent GOP this fall no matter who the Democratic nominee is.

And at that point, we all lose.