Race cards and speech codes

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Pat Buchanan

“Give me a break. This whole thing is the big­gest fairy tale I’ve ever seen.” So said Bill Clin­ton in New Hamp­shire of Barack Obama’s claim to have been a con­stant op­po­nent of the war. Mr. Clin­ton cited Mr. Obama’s vot­ing record, which was the same as Hil­lary’s in his early Se­nate years.

Yet, for this, the ex-pres­i­dent, des­ig­nated by Toni Mor­ri­son as “our first black pres­i­dent,” was charged with play­ing the race card.

Mr. Clin­ton spent days ex­plain­ing the “fairy tale” re­mark.

Came then the morn­ing of the South Carolina pri­mary, where Barack was rolling up a smash­ing vic­tory. Bill vol­un­teered: “Jesse Jack­son won in South Carolina, twice, in ‘84 and ‘88. And he ran a good cam­paign, and Sen. Obama’s run­ning a good cam­paign.”

That broke it. Bill Clin­ton was openly “play­ing the race card.”

Now, un­doubt­edly, Mr. Clin­ton was try­ing to be­lit­tle, to di­min­ish the im­por­tance of the South Carolina vote for Mr. Obama. But why is it racist to say what Mr. Clin­ton was im­ply­ing: That, in a South­ern state where a huge share of the Demo­cratic vote is African-Amer­i­can, a strong black pres­i­den­tial can­di­date can be ex­pected to do well?

Po­lit­i­cal his­tory proves this. What is racist about say­ing it?

Aware of the tru­ism, ev­ery po- lit­i­cal an­a­lyst was look­ing closely at the racial break­down of the South Carolina vote.

Last week came Hil­lary’s turn. Af­ter her vic­tory in In­di­ana and loss in North Carolina, which pun­dits said rang down the cur­tain on her pres­i­den­tial bid, she ad­vanced an ar­gu­ment can­di­dates have used since pri­mary elec­tions be­gan. “I can win — and my op­po­nent can’t.”

The ar­gu­ment was made against Gold­wa­ter, Nixon, Rea­gan.

In an in­ter­view with USA TO­DAY, Hil­lary ar­gued that the coali­tion she has put to­gether would be stronger against John McCain than the coali­tion Barack has cob­bled to­gether.

She be­gan by re­lat­ing an AP ar­ti­cle “that found how Sen. Obama’s sup­port among work­ing, hard-work­ing Amer­i­cans, white Amer­i­cans, is weak­en­ing again, and how whites in both states who had not com­pleted col­lege were sup­port­ing me.”

“There’s a pat­tern emerg­ing here,” said Hil­lary. “I have a much broader base to build a win­ning coali­tion on.”

This shot Eu­gene Robin­son of The Wash­ing­ton Post into low or­bit.

“As a ra­tio­nale for why Demo­cratic Party su­per-del­e­gates should pick her over Obama, it‘s a slap in the face to the party’s most loyal con­stituency — African Amer­i­cans — and a re­pu­di­a­tion of prin­ci­ples the party claims to stand for. Here’s what she’s re­ally say­ing to party lead­ers: There’s no way that white peo­ple are go­ing to vote for the black guy. Come Novem­ber, you’ll be sorry [. . .]

“Clin­ton im­plies but doesn’t quite come out and say [. . .] that Obama is black — and that white peo­ple who are not wealthy are ir­re­deemably racist.”

But Hil­lary was say­ing no such thing. De­scrib­ing her coali­tion, she was im­ply­ing that Mr. Obama’s coali­tion — a Ge­orge McGovern-Jesse Jack­son com­bine em­brac­ing 90 per­cent of African-Amer­i­cans, plus lib­er­als, stu­dents and cause peo­ple — has less chance of beat­ing Mr. McCain than does she and her more Mid­dle Amer­i­can coali­tion.

Democrats, not lib­eral Democrats, are the swing votes who de­cide pres­i­den­tial races. Here Hil­lary beats Mr. Obama three to two or two to one, North and South.

Has she no right to make this ar­gu­ment? Can Brother Robin­son ex­plain ex­actly how Hil­lary can de­scribe her Ohio-Penn­syl­va­nia coali­tion with­out us­ing the dread word “white”?

Some of the re­ac­tion to the Clin­tons, whose once-uni­ver­sal sup­port among African-Amer­i­cans has crashed, is due to the im­mense stake black Amer­i­cans have come to in­vest in the Obama can­di­dacy. But some of this is some­thing else, some­thing more sin­is­ter.

Bill and Hil­lary Clin­ton are not play­ing a race card. Rather, the lib­eral me­dia and some black jour­nal­ists with sen­ti­men­tal, emo­tional or ide­o­log­i­cal in­vest­ments in Mr. Obama are play­ing the in­tim­i­da­tion card.

They are set­ting lim­its around what may and may not be said about Mr. Obama. They are seek­ing to cen­sor ro­bust ad­ver­sar­ial speech where Barack is con­cerned, by brand­ing as racists “play­ing the race card” any who make Barack run the same paces as any­one else.

The Clin­tons are to­day vic­tims of a dou­ble stan­dard that has long been em­ployed against con­ser­va­tives.

Even African-Amer­i­cans crit­i­cal of Mr. Obama are feel­ing the lash. In a May 10 Wash­ing­ton Post ar­ti­cle, “Black Com­mu­nity Is In­creas­ingly Pro­tec­tive of Obama,” re­porter Dar­ryl Fears writes, “Stand­ing in the path of Obama’s cam­paign has been dan­ger­ous” for prom­i­nent blacks.

Bill and Hil­lary have lost lus­ter and sus­tained dam­age to their rep­u­ta­tions be­cause, in the Democrats’ uni­verse, such smears stick. The ques­tion for Repub­li­cans is whether they will let them­selves be in­tim­i­dated, as they too of­ten are, from us­ing le­git­i­mate po­lit­i­cal weapons to de­fend what they still have.

It is thus a sign of trou­ble ahead that John McCain de­clared the Rev. Wright off lim­its and be­rated the North Carolina GOP for bring­ing him up. Let your ad­ver­saries cir­cum­scribe the con­tent of your cam­paign, and you usu­ally end up los­ing your cam­paign.

Pat Buchanan is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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