Obama-Clinton Showdown: The Lessons of South Carolina

Blogger Jonathan Stein over at Mother Jones beat me to the punch on this one, but that’s one of the tragedies of having a full-time job and trying to blog at the same time. But in all the back patting or weeping (depending on who’s side you’re on) over the South Carolina primaries, Stein at MJ and I are asking the same question: Did the Clinton camp intentionally lose SC to “niggerize” Obama to cut white support from under him?

I definitely think it’s a possibility. First off, the media has been referring to the SC primary as “the Black Primary” because it’s a 30% Black state, and 50% of the voting Democrats in the state are of African descent. With the nation already thinking about what would happen in SC as representative of Black people, here’s what occurred:

  1. Hillary Clinton—in an attempt to pain Obama as some ragtag feel good community organizer and not presidential—used the analogy that while MLK mobilized people, it took LBJ to pass the Civil Rights Act. Black people took offense to that.
  2. Bill Clinton appeared on radio to defend him, and called Obama’s campaign a fantasy.
  3. BET founder Bob Johnson went off on Obama when introducing Senator Clinton at a rally in SC—basically insinuating that Obama was getting high on coke in Chicago while Hillary was serving the Nation.
  4. Then Bill Clinton performed less like the spouse of a candidate and more like a running mate (He even appeared on television to essentially deliver her concession speech after she lost), by appearing all over the place making comments about Obama and using verbiage to link him to Jesse Jackson.

The niggerization campaign in full effect. I think this turned a lot of Black people off to the Clintons, quite frankly, who overwhelmingly (81%) voted for Obama in South Carolina. Even though Obama had a great deal of support of the white voters under 30 years of age, the fact that he won in the Black primary became the story.

The Obama camp has known for some time that they simply cannot run him as a candidate who is concerned only about Black America if they want to have any real chance of winning. But was the Clinton strategy to force Obama off of his “above the political fray and above racial politics” message done to permanently smear his image with white and Latino voters to lessen his chance of winning the states where she is more competitive on Super Tuesday?

I think this bears some thinking about.

What may be problematic for her is the fact that the political establishment that has remained neutral so far may begin to shift to Obama’s camp. Congressman James Clyburn of SC had some thinly veiled harsh words for the Clinton Campaign after Obama’s win, saying about the Obama win: “‘I’m not surprised at that at all…Because I really believe that in the last 48 hours the voters recoiled. They decided to reject the racial animus they seemed to be developing and I’m so pleased.’

This weekend (and today, Monday) it was announced that two Kennedy’s–Caroline and Senator Ted–endorsed Obama. And most surprising, Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Toni Morrison endorsed Obama today.

Where this strategy may perhaps get her a nomination at the summer DNC, it may hurt her chances in the fall. Black people, if they feel Clinton played dirty to shut down the chances of the first Black President to be elected, may turn on her and simply not vote in November. Will it then have been worth it?

For more interesting commentary on Obama’s de-racialized campaign read an article from 2007 in In These Times from a person who knows him, and my good friend Kai Wright’s new piece in The Root (a brand new “Black” online publication—owned by the Washington Post. Henry Louis Gates is Editor-in-Chief.

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