The Clintons, race, and the 50-year-old calculation
By Selwyn Duke
Since I think the Clintons would probably sell their souls and firstborn for another White House tenure, the idea they would play the race card raises no eyebrow here. They are political creatures first, most everything else second and statesmen last. For this to elude one, he must have his head planted firmly in a particularly dense grade of sand.
Man of letters Christopher Hitchens understands this; while by no means a member of the "Vast Right-wing Conspiracy," he writes eloquently about the Clintons' long history of racial "thuggery and opportunism." Even more significant are the pronouncements of Dick Morris, Bill's erstwhile propaganda minister. His thesis is that Hillary wanted the black vote in South Carolina to coalesce for Obama so that she'd lose the state big, and she wanted this electoral shift to be visible and much ballyhooed in the media. Witnessing this, white voters in other states would then circle the wagons around her, and, with their numerical superiority, the nomination would be Hillary's.
Or so the theory goes.
Although Morris' political prognostications leave much to be desired (he specializes in stating as fact predictions that never come to pass), I believe he understands the Clintons' character almost as well as anyone. This is a man who knew them intimately enough to, as he relates the story, be physically tackled by an enraged Bill in the Arkansas governor's mansion and then told by Hillary, "He only does this to people he loves." So if he swears the Clintons were playing the race card, I take it seriously.
What I am doubtful of is that it would work.
This strategy rests on the assumption that whites feel such a sense of racial patriotism – or such fear of black political power – that any candidate seen as a guarantor of black interests will send them running into the arms of the best great white hope. This is the liberal view of the world.
It's also not reality.
I ask you, how many whites do you know who fit that profile? Sure, there are bigots in every group, but my experience with fellow whites tells me they're the exception, not the rule. In fact, when I think of all the people I have ever known, I remember precious few who I believe would have voted based on racial considerations. Even more to the point, a groundswell of black support isn't necessary to alienate such individuals from a black candidate. His skin color is more than enough.
This isn't to say that whites won't be swayed by the injection of a racial element; it is to say that I don't think they would all sway in Clinton's direction. And those who don't understand why, well, perhaps they've missed the last 50 years of societal evolution.
History tells us that man does indeed exhibit great ethnic and racial patriotism and that whites were no exception.
But the operative word is "were."
For many decades now whites have been inculcated with multiculturalism and a good dose of self-loathing (ever hear of white guilt?). Many white children are raised with the idea that the worst thing one can be is a bigot; in fact, they are taught that even contemplating the existence of racial differences is a deadly sin (even when those differences might be real).
Also consider the exaltation of gansta' culture. Millions of white youths listen to rap music, and no small number of them parade around small white-picket-fence towns dressed like gang-bangers. It's even said that in certain parts of California it's no longer "cool" to be white. Now, to such a mind, what kind of candidate would be more appealing, a white or black one? This, by the way, partially explains Obama's popularity among young voters.
Thus, while bigotry has some place in every community – as do all sins – in the white one a greater place is occupied by an even greater sin: Political correctness. There are whites – especially in the ranks of the Democrats – who will vote for a black man simply because of his skin color. To them it is a matter of practicing what they preach, of electoral activism, of feeling open-minded and tolerant. It does wonders for their self-image.
So the truth is that the George Wallace routine – even when done with subtlety – no longer plays in Peoria. Yet this fact eludes Dick Morris, the Clintons and most of the media for a simple reason: Their own prejudices.
To liberals, the terra firma between New York and Los Angeles is merely an impediment to travel between those two locales and to electing a purebred socialist to office. It's a land inhabited by people who not only own guns, but also still load them from the barrel end, a place where every sheriff is a Bull Connor.
I'll illustrate this attitude with a little anecdote. About 20 years ago I found myself in a political discussion with a very liberal young gal in rural upstate New York. It didn't take long to ascertain that marriage was not in the offing. Among the many inanities she assaulted me with was the idea that those northern reaches of the Empire State were a veritable hotbed of Klan activity.
Yes, that would be the Ku Klux Klan.
Now, as a native New Yorker, I can assure you that the only place you find white sheets in said area is on beds. You'll see orthodox Jews with beards and yarmulkes there, but never burning crosses. Yet little miss was sure of her impression. She could not be disabused.
This is the standard liberal view of the world. When former Democrat mayor of Atlanta Bill Campbell (who was later indicted and charged with fraud) called conservative legal groups "a homogenized version of the Klan" and said, "They may have traded in their sheets for suits, but it's the same old racism," don't think it was just political rhetoric. In some measure, this is what most liberals believe.
So I can't say for sure the Clintons played on race, although Dick Morris may very well be right. What they're all wrong about is thinking it would work, for these aren't the days of yore; there isn't really a white hood around every corner. Theirs is a 50-year-old calculation.
Now here is my more contemporary one. It doesn't take racial games to make bigots and the irredeemably politically correct vote their passions, but what of those in-between who could be swayed? After all, as is so often the case in elections, it's the "swing voter" who breaks the deadlock between intransigent extremes. My sense is that if a white candidate is perceived as exploiting race, it's probable that he will alienate more people than he will attract.
We should also remember that it was the voters of Iowa – a state 94.5 percent white – who resurrected Barack Obama's flagging campaign, favoring him over two white opponents. And if liberals believe the outcome would have been different had the race card been pulled, they dream.
Of course, this is where many will point out that Iowa isn't the South.
But 2008 isn't 1958, either.
Maybe it's time for the left to step into the 21st century.