Here we go. Johnny M. is playing it — or accusing Barack O. of playing it.

The race card. The dreaded race card.

When all chips are down, when a black man or woman is in danger of succeeding, there you have it. The race card again. It must be the race card.

Here’s what the Associated Press says happened:

John McCain accused Barack Obama of playing politics with race on Thursday, raising the explosive issue after the first black candidate with a serious chance of winning the White House claimed Republicans will try to scare voters by saying he “doesn’t look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills.”

Until now, the subject of race has been almost taboo in the campaign, at least in public, with both sides fearing its destructive force.

“I’m disappointed that Senator Obama would say the things he’s saying,” McCain told reporters in Racine, Wis. The Arizona senator said he agreed with campaign manager Rick Davis’ statement earlier that “Barack Obama has played the race card, and he played it from the bottom of the deck. It’s divisive, negative, shameful and wrong.” The aide was suggesting McCain had been wrongfully accused.

Let’s see. The Maverick McCain, they guy who helped bring us the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform, Johnny M. is uncomfortable that the Black Man is talking about color.

Actually, Barack said more than the AP reports:

“Nobody thinks that Bush and McCain have a real answer to the challenges we face. So what they’re going to try to do is make you scared of me,” Obama said. “You know, ‘He’s not patriotic enough, he’s got a funny name,’ you know, ‘He doesn’t look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills.'”

A few years back, in the summer heat of 2003, the PGA Western Open was played in Olympia Fields, IL. Tiger Woods did not fare well. Jim Furyk took top honors with a 272, winning $1.08 million. Tiger shot a mere 283, taking home only $64,170. Very sad. I had the opportunity to see Tiger and Jim play the last round at at Olympia Fields Country Club, an exclusive club nearby which only admitted it’s first African American member in 1990.

After Furyk had won, I stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts in Olympia Fields near the intersection of Western Ave. and the Lincoln Highway. My son and I entered and waited in line. There was a “Good-ol’-boy” white man ahead of us in line. There was also an African American woman in line, and other people of color behind the counter.

As the white man was leaving, he saw my hat which I had bought at the Open. The hat clearly read, “U.S. Open – Olympia Fields, IL.” On his way out of the store, he shouted, “Yeah! The white man won! The white man won!”

The clerk looked nervous. The African American woman in line put her head down and looked disgusted. I mumbled, “Bigot,” out loud. Then he was gone.

Right here in our racially diverse south suburbs of Chicago, the voice of hatred cried out. That was just a few years ago.

Barack Obama is right. Is race supposed to be an unspoken secret throughout the campaign? The weird right is already talking, and quite nervous. Some people are genuinely frightened that a black man may be president.

Face it — if the most earth-shattering swift-boating news McCain’s campaign can rustle up is a bizarre comparison of Barack Obama with Britney Spears and Paris Hilton — well, accusing Obama of playing the race card was inevitable.

Except, in this case, the white man played the race card.