This is a follow-up to my post on this issue on Friday. Here's how it works. The Clintons make these subtle, racially charged remarks, and then people like Joe Klein and corporate blacks like Robert L. Johnson start accusing Obama of making race an issue if he or his campaign complain about it. Judicious and unbiased pundits like Joe Klein weigh in to warn Obama to back off. Here's the nub Joe Klein's Swampland post warning Obama that trying to pin a racial motive on the Clintons is a losing strategy:
As for the Al Sharptons of the world: If race becomes an afterthought in American politics, they become powerless. That's why some of them raised the loathsome question of whether Obama is "black enough." Now, however, they are rallying--a bit too enthusiastically--to Obama's cause after several thoughtless remarks from the Clintons in the waning hours of the New Hampshire primary.
First, any attempt to paint the Clintons as racists is idiotic. . . .
Note that Klein dismisses the Clintons' remarks as merely thoughtless. But that's precisely the issue in question. Were they thoughtless or were they part of a deliberate pattern of innuendo? The strategy is not to undermine Obama's appeal to blacks but to undermine his trans-racial appeal to whites. If he fights back, all Clinton has to say is that her staff's comments were taken out of context, and he will be branded as an oversensitive black man playing the race card. And that's the Clinton objective--to undermine his appeal to those whites who are attracted to him precisely because of his trans-racial appeal. Clinton can win playing the gender card, but Obama can't win by playing the race card. The numbers are obvious: women compose more than half the voting Democratic electorate; African Americans far less. That's why he would never play the race card, and that's why the Clintons want to prod him or his supporers into doing so.
The following commenter to Klein's post illustrates the narratiave the Clintons hope will establish itself as the dominant way of interpreting this conflict:
Finally, a Joe Klein post I can agree with.
Obama is playing the race card like a Vegas card sharp, apparently in the hope of generating an anti-Clinton backlash. He's generating a backlash, all right. I'm Black, and all his campaign is doing is making me angry. This is a man who, after the Katrina debacle, declared that the people of New Orleans were not abandoned to their fate because of the administration's racism. He has preached a post-racial gospel that his supporters have eagerly swallowed and regurgitated to all who will hear. Yet here he is, deploying his surrogates to engage in the most shameful brand of racial politics I have ever seen.
It's obvious from the past few days that this is a coordinated strategy, one that Obama himself has authorized. After his loss in New Hampshire, he and his backers appear to have become desperate about their chances in other states. Perhaps he thinks he got caught in the Bradley effect, and needs to counter it with open assertions of racism. Or perhaps his staffers took in the media reports about Clinton's "sympathy bounce" and decided that they wanted a bit of that action. Despite his post-racial pandering, Obama knows damned well that accusations of racism are still the nuclear weapon of American politics; only charges of antisemitism have more power. This is the only way they could trump and disarm the uproar over the sexist treatment Clinton has received from the press, so they had to take the risk.
This is exactly the response the Clintons are hoping for. If this narrative gets established in the public imagination, It immunizes the Clinton campaign from making subtle smears of the type that have been noted in the past week. Obama can't defend himself against such attacks because the wife of the "first black president" would never stoop to such a low race-baiting ploy--right? The Clintons don't have to defend their record when it comes to the black community--right? The judicious Joe Klein says so. If Obama complains, he will be made to appear as overreacting or to be using race in the way that the commenter above suggests.
Very deft. So it will be interesting to see how Obama deals with it. I've already made up my my mind about Clinton, so this doesn't make me feel any more negatively toward her. But I'm interested to see if Obama can find a way of confronting this kind of attack that is equally deft.
P.S. While I'm at it, will somebody please tell me why Clinton gets a pass on 35 years of experience "making" change. I'm sure she's had some accomplishments, but if she's trying to make herself look like Lyndon Johnson who can get things done as opposed the idealistic but ineffectual dreamer, just remember how she botched the healthcare initiative in her husband's first term. She's a visionless wonk at best, and she has not proven she can get things done any more than Obama has. She will be a lightning rod for right wing contempt and obstruction. It will be hard enough for Obama, and my expectations of his getting anything done are not high, but he has a far better chance of breaking the impasse than Hillary does.
Obama will get a honeymoon; Clinton will not. It may not be her fault that she is so reviled, but she is. And if her husband, someone far more politically talented than she, could get hardly anything done, there's little chance that she will. My argument for Obama, to repeat it, is not that I think he is ushering in the political parousia, but that because he has this x-factor, he has far greater upside potential. Clinton will accomplish little, and she will continue the divisiveness.
UPDATE 1: Check especially the comments following this article about Bill listing the 80 attacks on Hillary by Obama. This is how the food fight begins. Is there a way for Obama to transcend it? I doubt he'll be able to win it if he engages it on the same level it's being brought to him.
UPDATE 2: A good start from Obama in trying to put a stop to the food fight.