Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Playing the 'They are Playing the Race Card' Card

One of the more curious aspects of Hillary Clinton's appearance on Meet the Press last Sunday was her charge that the Obama campaign had deliberately distorted her remarks about the relative importance of Martin Luther King and Lyndon Johnson to the success of the Civil Rights movement.

The motivation behind the audacious charge of distortion was left unexplained in this space in What Was the Message Hillary Clinton Intended to Send About MLK and LBJ?.

In today's Washington Post, Eugene Robinson suggests a plausible explanation (A Hand the Clintons Aren't Showing):
...the strategy could be ... subtle. I can't help but recall a certain piece of history.

In 1992, when Bill Clinton was running for president, a controversial hip-hop artist named Sister Souljah made an ugly comment about the Los Angeles riots: "If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?" Candidate Clinton highlighted the remark in a speech to the Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition, comparing Souljah to Ku Klux Klan member David Duke. The episode demonstrated that Clinton was not only tough on lawlessness but also willing to challenge "special interests" -- in this case, black activists.

The Clintons are reading the polls, too; they might well be resigned to the possibility that most black Democrats will vote for Obama. This would mean that South Carolina is probably already lost and that the campaign's focus now has to be on Florida and the many states whose delegates are up for grabs on "Tsunami Tuesday."

Is it possible that accusing Obama and his campaign of playing the race card might create doubt in the minds of the moderate, independent white voters who now seem so enamored of the young, black senator? Might that be the idea?

Injecting the subject of race into the campaign so that one can accuse the black candidate of having done so is an exploitation of racial division of the higher-order variety discussed here in Hillary's Meta-Racist Campaign Against Obama.

Was this the plan all along? Perhaps, but it is just as likely that this new strategy is a desperate response to the fallout from her grotesque gaffe. It is quite possible, at least initially, that Hillary only meant to say that Obama is a man of words and she is a woman of action. In comparing herself to LBJ, she took her point to be the modest one of suggesting that, while not an inspirational speaker, she is an effective leader. By giving Obama the analogous role to King's, however, and by intending to insult Obama as ineffective, she incredibly failed to draw the obvious implication that she would thereby diminish the patron saint of civil rights. Whenever the Clintons make a mistake it is always their first inclination to blame somebody else. The vast right-wing conspiracy wasn't available this time. That left only Obama, the immediate beneficiary of their mistake. The absurd charge that Obama is playing the race card and distorting her remark will hurt the Clintons greatly with the black vote in the primaries, but perhaps they are willing to concede that vote now anyway. In any event, whether or not the desire to provoke a white backlash was their motivation to bring up MLK in the first place, it is the most plausible explanation for their deceptive charge that Obama has distorted her remarks. The only card they had left to play was to claim that it was Obama who was playing the race card.

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|| headland, 2:28 PM


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