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O'REILLY: Speaking of the devil

So there I was, speaking at a forum sponsored by Al Sharpton's National Action Network — not exactly my core audience. But since the reverend comes on my TV program from time to time, I felt it was worthy to return the favor. Besides, I like chatting with the unconverted.

Facing a sea of skeptical faces, I told the largely left-leaning crowd that President Barack Obama was smart to avoid racial politics. The president has consistently said he is not interested in being a ‘‘black'' leader, that he wants to represent all Americans. He has rejected referencing his skin color or even mentioning most racial issues. Some black leaders have even criticized Obama for not doing enough to help African-Americans.

But I also told the crowd that some supporters of the president are playing the race card all day long. The latest example happened after Newt Gingrich told a Republican gathering that Obama may be good at basketball, but the country needs a president, not an athlete, in order to improve the job situation. That prompted NBC News correspondent Norah O'Donnell to say that the remark, the idea that blacks are good athletes, struck her as racial.

As they say at Ridgemont High: ‘‘Oh ... my ... God.''

Most of O'Donnell's colleagues in the discussion gently mocked her, the exception being Jonathan Capehart, an editorial writer at The Washington Post. He, too, felt the racial ‘‘implication.''

My question is simple: Is this insane, or what?

There is no question that some Obama supporters are using a racial baton to bludgeon opponents of the president. Even though Obama has criticized that tactic, he may suffer from it. Many Americans are angry that race baiting has become a political staple. They clearly see it as an attempt to stifle robust debate.

And by crying racial wolf, important race matters may be ignored. Once everything becomes racial, then nothing is. There absolutely is racism in America, but O'Donnell has no idea what it is.

I also told Sharpton's crowd that branding the tea party a racist group would be a huge mistake that could actually create racism. There already is a backlash against the tea party crashers. According to a new Rasmussen poll, 24 percent of Americans now align themselves with the movement, up nine points in a month.

Finally, I said the only positive thing that came out of the attacks on 9/11 was the unification of the American people. From my view, blacks, whites, Latinos and Asian-Americans all came together to deplore the senseless terrorism. That comment actually drew a few boos from the crowd, which is perplexing.

At the end of my talk, there was a smattering of applause. A small smattering. Perhaps smattering is too strong a word. I gave it my best shot, though. You can't fault me for trying.

Veteran TV news anchor Bill O'Reilly is host of the Fox News show ‘‘The O'Reilly Factor.''