Clinton's Racial Arson: Reactions

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[Elections 2008: The Race Card]



A day after many observers declared it nearly impossible for Sen. Hillary Clinton to overtake Sen. Barack Obama to win the Democratic presidential nomination, Clinton told USA Today, "I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on."

As evidence, the story said, Clinton cited an Associated Press 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," Clinton said.

To many, it was a shocking statement — equating "hard-working Americans" with "white Americans" and a naked attempt to cast herself as "the white candidate" in the race.

But while bloggers, some columnists and editorial writers and some readers jumped on the comments, stories in the mainstream media downplayed them.

Even USA Today, to whom Clinton uttered the comment as a response to a general question about her campaign, broke the story under a bland Web site headline, "Clinton makes case for wide appeal."

An Associated Press story by Beth Fouhy seemingly attempted to validate Clinton's comments and to marginalize those who found them offensive. "Obama's campaign did not respond to the comments, which generated buzz in the liberal blogosphere," it said.

"Working-class whites overwhelmingly favor Clinton over Obama, and their view of the Illinois senator has grown increasingly negative since late last year, according to Associated Press-Yahoo News polling. In an AP-Yahoo survey a month ago, more than half or 53 percent of whites who have not finished college had negative impressions of Obama, up a 12 points since November."

By contrast, on NBC's "First Read" blog, Clinton's statement was immediately portrayed as a liability among superdelegates, who at this point will decide the nomination.

"It's comments like that one that might drive more supers toward Obama pretty quickly. Why? Because they know the math, but they don't want her to spend three weeks making a case that Obama can't win. It will only weaken him. Here's what Obama backer Chris Dodd said yesterday, per NBC's Ken Strickland. 'You're going to be asking a bunch of people [in West Virginia] to vote against somebody who's likely to be your nominee a few weeks later? And turn around and ask the very same people a few weeks later to reverse themselves and now vote for [Obama] on election day?'

CNN's "Situation Room" and the "NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams" both interviewed Obama but did not ask him about Clinton's "white Americans" comment. If it made the network evening news shows, it was reported routinely.

That was not the case elsewhere.

In The Wall Street Journal on Friday, Peggy Noonan, a former Reagan speechwriter and decidedly not a member of the liberal blogosphere, wrote, "To play the race card as Mrs. Clinton has, to highlight and encourage a sense that we are crudely divided as a nation, to make your argument a brute and cynical 'the black guy can't win but the white girl can' is — well, so vulgar, so cynical, so cold, that once again a Clinton is making us turn off the television in case the children walk by."

The financial newspaper Investor's Business Daily asked editorially on Friday, "Is this a last-ditch act of desperation? Or could it be a calculated attempt to get an explosion of free media as the Clintons' campaign funds dwindle? . . . Could this be Hillary's version of 'doing a Willie Horton'?

"We endorsed Mrs. Clinton, and we know that she has a major contribution to make," The New York Times said in an editorial. "Yes, there is a pattern — a familiar and unpleasant one. It is up to Mrs. Clinton to change it if she hopes to have any shot at winning the nomination or preserving her integrity and her influence if she loses."

Others were stronger.

"Racists should decide the Democratic nomination," Issac J. Bailey wrote Friday in the Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Sun News. "Sen. Hillary Clinton didn't use those words in an interview with USA Today, but she came close."

The Windsor Star in Windsor, Ontario, headlined its story, "Obama nears finish line; Desperate Clinton plays race card."

"She Said What?" was the headline over Michael Weiss' piece on

On, Joe Conason asked "Was Hillary channeling George Wallace? Hillary's reckless exploitation of racial division could split the Democratic Party over race — a tragic legacy for the Clintons."

As Clinton made her comment, Jim Morrill and Ted Mellnik wrote in the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer that, "In sweeping to his surprisingly easy 14-point win in North Carolina, Obama won 68 percent of the vote in five urban counties, such as Mecklenburg and Wake, according to an Observer analysis of election returns.

"And that wasn't just with heavy black support. In Mecklenburg, for example, he won 54 percent of the vote in 86 predominantly white precincts.

In the USA Today story, Kathy Kiely and Jill Lawrence wrote, "Obama spokesman Bill Burton said that in Indiana, Obama split working-class voters with Clinton and won a higher percentage of white voters than in Ohio in March. He said Obama will be the strongest nominee because he appeals 'to Americans from every background and all walks of life. These statements from Sen. Clinton are not true and frankly disappointing.'

"Clinton rejected any idea that her emphasis on white voters could be interpreted as racially divisive. 'These are the people you have to win if you're a Democrat in sufficient numbers to actually win the election. Everybody knows that.'"

In the closest Obama response to the issue in the interview with NBC's Williams, the Illinois senator said, "If I can say to people, 'Look, I might not have been your first choice, but here's how I'm going to allow you to send your kids to college, here's how I'm going to protect your pension, here's how I'm going to expand healthcare so you don't have to lose sleep at night trying to figure out whether or not you can afford to get sick,' then I think people will respond."

On on Monday, Thomas F. Schaller wrote a piece that flipped the scri pt, examining why Clinton hadn't done better among black voters, the Democrats' most loyal constituency.

"Clinton failed to stand for African-American Democrats when the chance presented itself late last fall and into early January, even if doing so meant firing key staffers or dressing down her own husband. Doing that might have denied Barack Obama the near-universal claim to their support he now enjoys, and the black-white coalition he built from it. For Hillary Clinton, the price of that failure may turn out to be nothing less than the nomination itself," Schaller wrote.

In The Washington Post on Friday, Eugene Robinson contended, "Clinton's sin isn't racism, it's arrogance. From the beginning, the Clinton campaign has refused to consider the possibility that Obama's success was more than a fad."

And on the "Diane Rehm Show" on National Public Radio on Friday, panelists noted that Democratic presidential candidates had not won the majority of white votes in recent general elections in any case, that it was multiracial coalitions that had put the winners over the top.

Clinton might have thought better of her comment about white voters.

"In Charleston, W.Va., yesterday, Clinton argued that the coalition of voters backing her would make her more viable than Obama against McCain, Shailagh Murray and Perry Bacon Jr. wrote Friday in the Washington Post, referring to the presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain R-Ariz.

"Yesterday, she repeatedly referred to her appeal among 'hardworking Americans,' including 'Catholic voters, Hispanic voters, blue-collar voters and seniors — the kind of people who Senator McCain will be fighting for in the general election.' She did not repeat the term 'white voters.'"



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