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Barack Obama got a taste this week of what’s coming.

The picture of him decked out in Somali gear. The McCain emcee who repeatedly called him “Barack Hussein Obama.” The Louis Farrakhan question at the debate.

It’s time for the Obama campaign to strap on the seat belts. It’s going to be a rough ride.

And ugly.

After September 11, 2001, one political operative told Obama his political career was over. That was a bit premature, but the point is well taken.

Obama had a relatively easy road to the Senate. And to where he is today in the Democratic contest. Both times, he was blessed with the greatest gift in politics: incompetent opponents. Now, some real fireballers will start throwing at his head.

Obama is inspirational. He puts me in mind of the Kennedys.

Unfortunately, the Muslim e-mail smear that has been circulating for months and the events of this week put me in mind of how ugly – and how effective – racial politics can be. It worked for Jesse Helms.

A lot of older – or, as I prefer to say, “experienced” – Democrats feel this way. We hope Obama is different from the ineffectual hope-mongers we’ve nominated before. We hope he’s ready. We hope times – and people – have changed. We hope race – and the new element of anti-Muslim bias – won’t matter this time.

We hope that hope is more than a word.

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