The Race Card
Barack Obama’s victory in the South Carolina primary is being hailed as a great victory for his campaign. His chances at the nomination are perceived to be at their highest since his Iowa victory. The South Carolina primary is seen as a terrible, disastrous day for the Clinton campaign, and as Obama’s greatest triumph.
In all probability, the opposite is true. South Carolina may have sealed Barack Obama’s fate. The Clinton family allowed for this jolt on the road to the nomination, and crafted a very effective countermeasure. It is a countermeasure that could very well work.
Their strategy is to play the race card. For a party that claims to be the party of civil rights, the Democrats are surprisingly conscious of race. That issue permeates their race far more than even such a controversial issue as Mitt Romney’s Mormonism could influence a Republican primary. The Clintons know this.
So after Obama won, Bill Clinton (“the first black President”, of course) wasted no time in comparing Obama’s South Carolina victory to Jesse Jackson’s ’84 and ‘88 wins in the same state. “Jackson ran a good campaign” Bill reminded us. “And Obama ran a good campaign here."
The reasoning behind this is clear. Jackson won South Carolina due mostly to his support among black voters. Jackson ran more or less solely on his race. Therefore, reasons Clinton, Obama is the candidate for blacks, and Hillary is the choice for whites, especially white women.
There ploy is, of course, incredibly unfair. There are many reasons available to criticize Barack Obama—he is basically a socialist spouting obvious platitudes. However, his racial strategy is not one of them. He has run an admirably colorblind campaign, and has not run on his race. (Although there is a separate page on his website for each of the three most common minority races. Apparently “white” is the default race.) Obama spouts basically the same forty-year-old, recycled ideas that Hillary Clinton and John Edwards embrace, but his message is marketed to all races.
Will this strategy work? Probably. The Clinton’s have their weaknesses, but a poor understanding of politics is not one of them. Bill Clinton understands politics, and has a history of pushing all the right buttons to get his way.
After the rapper Sister Souljah made some racially insensitive remarks, Bill Clinton heavily criticized her. Clinton was, as it happened, right to do so, but his intentions were obvious. He used that opportunity to remind voters that he was tough on crime. It worked, and was seen as a turning point in his campaign. Clinton knew exactly which buttons to push, and when. It was brilliant.
Clinton used a similar ploy shortly before his “Sister Souljah moment”. Falling behind in the New Hampshire primary, and wishing to build a “tough on crime” reputation, Clinton made a point of signing a death warrant of Ricky Ray Rector, two-time murderer. However, Rector also happened to have significant brain damage, the result of an unsuccessful suicide attempt. While Clinton got publicity for his death signing, Rector decided to save his pecan pie desert at his last meal “for later”. Hardly the words of one who could understand his punishment. The prison chaplain, Dennis Pigman, later resigned in disgust. But it did work—Clinton got his tough-on-crime publicity.
Clinton knows how to win elections. While nothing in politics is certain, there is a pretty good chance that he will succeed in smearing Obama and win his wife the nomination.
This is good news for the Republican Party, as Clinton has nowhere near Obama’s chances of winning in the general election. With that in mind, I must confess to a certain satisfaction at seeing the infamous Clinton Smear Machine busily smearing the Democrats best candidate. It is as if they are doing our work for us.
But satisfying or not, it is important to note that what the Clintons are doing to Obama is very, very wrong. There is nobody who wants to keep the hyper-liberal Barack Obama out of the White House more than I. But like so many who have been crushed by the Clintons, he deserves better. The Clinton’s playing of the race card is unfair.