Thursday, December 13, 2007
Intra-Party Racial Politics
The second generation story emerging from yesterday's Billy Shaheen story is that African Americans are up in arms over the insinuation that Obama will be asked if he was a drug dealer. On African American radio stations, callers were correctly observing that not even the most in-your-face reporters asked Al Gore or George W. Bush if he actually sold drugs as opposed to using them. Why is a black candidate who admitted to youthful drug use expected to answer such questions? I truly think Hillary needs to fire Shaheen to repair the potential rift, and not just make him apologize, which is what they've done. This story really could cause the first serious black flight from Hillary.That's quite right. Hillary is in serious trouble. The Clinton campaign seemed to have bows in its quiver: The first was the "inevitability"/"restoration" argument. But, her debate Philadelphia debate and follow-up stumbling fatally punctured that. Her next option is to go into attack mode. But Hillary Clinton in attack mode is not a pleasant sight. She has historically done better when she is perceived as the victim -- not the pushy aggressor. As I pointed out in an earlier Comment thread:
Obama's early strategy of trying to be "post-politics" and not being negative seemed to make it difficult for him to lay a hand on Hillary. However, as she's stumbled and he's surged ahead, her attacks on him make her look petty and remind many people about the dark side of Clinton-style attack politics. The drug stuff looks desperate. Credit Obama: It's hard to "attack" someone when his life is, *literally*, an open book. He's admitted to using drugs (even coke) and didn't pull any weaselly boomer-style language like, Bubba's "I didn't inhale," or W's "When I was young and foolish, I did young and foolish things." Obama told it straight.
But Hillary's person has tried to take Obama's honesty on the drug issue and exaggerate it in a way that will turn off voters in general -- and black voters, in particular.
Meanwhile, in a man-bites-dog moment, I actually agree with Dick Morris on the impact of Oprah on Obama:
Oprah sends a message to all American women that it is OK not to vote for Hillary and one to African-Americans that they need to vote for Obama. Were Oprah seen primarily as a black leader, her endorsement of a candidate of her own race running against one of her own gender wouldn’t mean that much. If her reputation were one for putting her race constantly ahead of her gender, her endorsement of Obama would seem automatic. But that is not who Oprah is.
But to black voters, Oprah’s endorsement, precisely because it flies in the face of her gender, is especially significant. The message it sends to African-Americans is: It’s time. Her foray into politics to endorse Obama makes it clear that his candidacy has special relevance to all black men and women everywhere. It is not so much that she has reached into politics to back Obama as that the senator’s candidacy has such meaning for any citizen who is black that it reaches into Oprah’s life and demands that she come forth to support it. Her endorsement seems to suggest that just as anti-Catholic bigotry went away when John Kennedy was elected, so racism may fade in the aftermath of an Obama presidency.
UPDATE: Hillary's NH co-chair resigns after Obama drug comments. This is a scene out of campaign that is clearly playing defense and in near-panic mode. This is pretty significant: Shaheen is the husband of Jeanne Shaheen, the former governor and current U.S. Senate candidate. He's also a former state party chairman. This gives new meaning to the phrase "blowback."