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The Race Card

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Surveying the Wreckage.

Above all, this irony emerges: Clinton ran on the basis of managerial competence — on her capacity, as she liked to put it, to ‘do the job from Day One.’ In fact, she never behaved like a chief executive, and her own staff proved to be her Achilles’ heel…Her hesitancy and habit of avoiding hard choices exacted a price that eventually sank her chances at the presidency.The Atlantic‘s Josh Green, who covered the dirt on the Patty Doyle firing earlier this year, tells the story of Sen. Clinton’s primary bid from the inside (thanks mainly to being the beneficiary of vindictive document dumps from across the campaign hierarchy.)

Among the many interesting revelations, Mark Penn is apparently an even bigger asshole than he seemed during the primaries. Regarding Sen. Obama: “All of these articles about his boyhood in Indonesia and his life in Hawaii are geared towards showing his background is diverse, multicultural and putting that in a new light. Save it for 2050…his roots to basic American values and culture are at best limited. I cannot imagine America electing a president during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values…Let’s use our logo to make some flags we can give out. Let’s add flag symbols to the backgrounds.” Classy.

Update: Speak of the devil. While giving kudos to McCain for his Paris Hilton ad, Mark Penn emerges from his cave to extol the usefulness of negative advertising. “Picking a president is not just about the candidates’ strengths but also about how their weaknesses can manifest themselves. Imagine if, in 2000, Al Gore’s advertisements had hit George W. Bush hard over incompetence on foreign affairs and as a trigger-happy cowboy.

The Clinton “Blacklash.”

You know all the media hype we’ve been hearing of late about Obama’s presumed troubles with white voters? According to a study by NYT columnist Charles Blow, the numbers don’t bear it out. In fact, quite the converse: “The question is this: Have white Democrats soured on Obama? Apparently not. Although his unfavorable rating from the group is up five percentage points since last summer in polls conducted by The New York Times and CBS News, his favorable rating is up just as much. On the other hand, black Democrats’ opinion of Hillary Clinton has deteriorated substantially (her favorable rating among them is down 36 percentage points over the same period). While a favorable opinion doesn’t necessarily translate into a vote, this should still give the Clintons (and the superdelegates) pause. Electability cuts both ways.” That it does. (See also Rural Votes.)

Hillary, quit calling me.

“‘I think it would be really wonderful if me and Barack Obama could get together and make a nice counter ad,’ Knowles said.” Enterprising local journalists in Bonney Lake, WA find the little girl in Clinton’s fearmongering 3am ad and discover, not only that she’s old enough to vote, but that she’s a strong supporter of, and former precinct captain for, Barack Obama. Apparently, the ad used stock footage from 8 years ago, which should help to quell the talk of subliminal racism on the Clinton campaign’s part. (I don’t happen to subscribe to that intentional-racism theory, or this one. But, if this thing goes on another month, who knows where Team Clinton will draw the line?)

Wilentz Jumps the Shark.

The Obama campaign has yet to reach bottom in its race-baiter accusations…They promise to continue until they win the nomination, by any means necessary.Taylor Marsh, Ph.D? A Clinton supporter from Day One, he at first dismissed Obama as merely the newest in a long tradition of “beautiful losers,” like Adlai Stevenson and Bill Bradley. (If you come ’round here often, you can probably guess that didn’t sit too well with me. In fact, it’s basically the same argument recently made by friend and colleague David Greenberg, before he went the way of the Great White Hope.) Well, if today’s TNR piece is any indication, historian Sean Wilentz only knows how to lose ugly. Despite the fact that Wilentz has been ranting worse than Krugman for most of this election cycle, I’ve been inclined to give him a pass, partly as a professional courtesy of sorts to a well-esteemed historian of whom I once thought quite highly, and partly because of his well-publicized Dylan fandom. Well, no more. Wilentz has been writing increasingly blatant pro-Clinton spin pieces throughout the campaign, which is his wont as a Clinton supporter, I suppose. But here he’s penned a shrill and intemperate screed which, frankly, is more embarrassing than anything else. It’s the type of angry, weirdly conspiratorial rant you’d expect to be written by an anonymous, and possibly drunk, Salon poster, not one of the more venerable American historians in the profession.

Am I overstating the case? Well, let’s take a look at some of the spleen-venting on display here: “After several weeks of swooning, news reports are finally being filed about the gap between Senator Barack Obama’s promises of a pure, soul-cleansing ‘new’ politics and the calculated, deeply dishonest conduct of his actually-existing campaign. But it remains to be seen whether the latest ploy by the Obama camp–over allegations about the circulation of a photograph of Obama in ceremonial Somali dress–will be exposed by the press as the manipulative illusion that it is.” Calculated, deeply dishonest conduct? Ploy? Manipulative illusion? Tell us what you really think, Prof. Wilentz.

And that’s just the first paragraph. It gets worse. Check out this unsightly sentence: “As insidious as these tactics are, though, the Obama campaign’s most effective gambits have been far more egregious and dangerous than the hypocritical deployment of deceptive and disingenuous attack ads.” Riiight. I really started to buy your case after that fifth negative adjective or so.

I’d spend time refuting Wilentz point for point if I thought he was trying to make a reasonable case here. But he spends most of the article just shrieking “race baiter race baiter race baiter!“, punctuated with occasional whiny, Clintonesque accusations of pro-Obama media bias. (One of the many targets of Wilentz’s wrath, Frank Rich, has recently pointed out the problems with that line of argument.) But, in general terms, in order to buy what Wilentz is selling here, you’d have to believe all of the following:

  • That there’d be no conceivable political advantage whatsoever for the Clinton campaign to paint Barack Obama as solely “the black candidate” (“It has never been satisfactorily explained why the pro-Clinton camp would want to racialize the primary and caucus campaign.“) Hmm. Anyone have a theory on this? Dick Morris? Hitch? I can’t for the life of me imagine how such a tack might’ve helped the Clintons, here in our post-racial America.
  • That there were no racial overtones whatsoever to Billy Shaheen and Mark Penn et al, just sorta accidentally invoking drug hysteria, even once the campaign got explicitly Willie Horton with it and called Obama weak on mandatory minimums.
  • That, similarly, there were no racial overtones whatsoever to Bill Clinton comparing Obama’s huge Carolina victory to that of Jesse Jackson, something that bothered even ostensibly neutral observers such as Josh Marshall and Glenn Greenwald.
  • That people (such as myself) who at first wondered in shock if a Bradley effect had anything to do with the fifteen-point New Hampshire turnaround were actually operating on orders from the Obama campaign.
  • That African-Americans unaffiliated with the Obama campaign such as Jim Clyburn and Donna Brazile, among countless others, who took umbrage at the dismissive tone of the LBJ/fairy tale remarks (which I’ve said were not racist, just tone-deaf) were also “deep undercover,” at the sinister behest of Obama’s race-baiting shock troops.
  • That the Clinton campaign has been the unfairly aggrieved party throughout this election cycle, and would never dream of indulging in “outrageously deceptive advertisements.
  • That rather than trying to defuse racial controversies as they’ve emerged during the race, Sen. Obama has personally sought to exploit them for nefarious purposes.
  • That Clinton staffers just innocuously sent out the Somaligate photo to Drudge, having no earthly idea at all that it might play to the whispering campaign about Sen. Obama’s religion. I mean, who woulda thunk it?

    And so on. Meanwhile, in between the purging of bile (Obama’s “cutthroat, fraudulent politics,” “the most outrageous deployment of racial politics since Willie Horton, “the most insidioussince Reagan in Philadelphia), Wilentz trots out stale and rather sad race-conspiracy talking points from pro-Clinton hives like TalkLeft, such as Jesse Jackson Jr. chiding superdelegate Emanuel Cleaver for standing in the way of a black president. (Please. As if female superdelegates weren’t receiving similar calls from the Clinton camp. Clinton even made the explicit gender case — again — in the debate tonight.) I dunno, perhaps this is what you should expect from a thinker who cites Philip Roth as an expert on black-white relations. (Although, fwiw, Roth’s voting Obama.) Nevertheless, Wilentz has crossed over the line here from politically-minded historian to unhinged demagogue, and made himself to look absolutely ridiculous in the process. It’ll be hard to read his historical work in the future without this hyperbolic and ill-conceived polemic in mind.

  • Drowning in the Mud.

    So, since Thursday night’s seemingly valedictory moment, when it seemed Sen. Clinton might withdraw from the presidential contest with dignity intact, we’ve witnessed the ridiculous “shame on you” farce, her grotesquely unbecoming (and unpresidential) spate of unhinged sarcasm, further railing against Obama’s foreign policy (in part by comparing him to Dubya), some really desperate whining about the press coverage, and — arguably a new low — her staff’s apparent attempt to get the “closet Muslim” smear machine up and running again with the already-infamous Somali gear pic. (Here’s a quick summary of recent events.) Update: One of the more egregious spins of the day: Combining the biased-press and Somali-photo tacks, a Clinton aide is quoted as saying, ““Wouldn’t we be seeing this on the cover of every magazine if it were [Clinton]?” Uh, no, because there’s obviously no whispering campaign arguing that Sen. Clinton is secretly Muslim. Really, what kind of idiots do you take us for?

    It can only make you wonder what the next eight days will bring, and how much lower the Clinton campaign can possibly sink. I understand that they’re desperate now (See also Clinton supporter Geraldine Ferraro all but begging supers to back HRC), but they’ve really gone beyond the pale. At this point, I’m less outraged than I am just disgusted by Sen. Clinton, Mark Penn, and co. The self-immolation of the Clinton legacy is almost complete, and any goodwill they might’ve once enjoyed in progressive circles is well past exhausted. Let’s just hope the trail of slime they leave on their path to the exit doesn’t prove fertile ground for the Republicans in the general.

    Update: Sen. Obama personally responds to the Somali pic flap: “Everybody knows that whether it’s me or Senator Clinton, or Bill Clinton, that when you travel to other countries they ask you to try on traditional garb that you have been given as a gift. The notion that the Clinton campaign would be trying to circulate this as a negative on the same day that Senator Clinton was giving a speech about how we repair our relationships around the world is sad. We are going to try to stay focused on what will make a difference in our foreign policy, including bringing the war in Iraq to an honorable end.” He then proceeded to twist the knife: “The notion that they would try to use this to imply in some way that I’m foreign, I think is, you know, unfortunate…These are the kinds of political tricks and silliness you start seeing at the end of campaigns.

    Update 2: The NYT surveys “what one Clinton aide called a ‘kitchen sink’ fusillade against Mr. Obama,” while the WP’s Dana Milbank reports on the efforts of the increasingly combative and bizarre Clinton spin room: “They are in the last throes, if you will…there was no mistaking a certain flailing, a lashing-out, as two Clinton advisers sat down for a bacon-and-eggs session yesterday at the St. Regis Hotel…[They offered] a fascinating tour of an alternate universe.”

    Bill, your Freudian Slip is Showing.

    Jesse Jackson won South Carolina twice in ’84 and ’88…” Uh, but Bill, nobody mentioned Jesse Jackson. President Clinton tries to race-card it up until the last dog dies. But, hey, shame on the media for injecting race into the campaign, right? It is time…for them…to go.

    Update: The Atlantic‘s Matt Yglesias had a pretty great line about this: “After all this time being told by the Clinton campaign that Barack Obama is some kind of closet Reagan-worshipping right-winger, it’s a bit confusing to be told that he’s the second coming of Jesse Jackson, too.

    Update 2: Jesse Jackson says, Let’s move on, while Chris Hitchens argues, What did you expect?

    Update 3: If you were perusing politlcal sites on Sunday, you may have heard many angry Clinton supporters claim that they’d watched the full exchange, that the President was asked directly about the “first black president” prior to the clip — hence, “that’s just bait too” — and that the media was distorting his remarks because they hate Clinton. Not surprisingly at this point, this all turned out to be a pack of bald-faced lies.

    A Toss-Up in Dover | Shaheen Plays Dirty (Again).

    She’s in big trouble and she knows it,’ a top Democratic operative and Hillary Clinton booster told the newspaper.” As the GOP debate again and the Dems prep for their last face-off before the January 3rd Iowa caucus, a new poll finds Obama is now statistically tied with Clinton in New Hampshire. “Clinton is now at 31 percent to Obama’s 30 percent. New Hampshire’s primary is set for January 8. Clinton’s 5-percentage point drop appears to have been largely due to the loss of support among women.” Nationally, however, the story is quite different, with Clinton still enjoying a huge lead over Obama, 53-23%. But, after an Iowa/NH bounce, who knows?

    Update: As a reflection of how tight things have gotten in the Granite State, NH Clinton campaign co-director Billy Shaheen dabbles in drug hysteria in an attempt to tarnish Obama’s potential electability. It should be remembered that Shaheen, husband of former NH Governor Jeanne Shaheen, is the same “statesman” who slung (real) mud at Bob Kerrey and called him a “cripple” during the 2000 primaries, back when he ran Gore’s NH operation (the same campaign that eventually connived a traffic jam on I-93 to prevent Bradley voters from getting to the polls.) The fact that this inveterate asshole is not only working for but running the Clinton camp in NH only further diminishes her campaign in my eyes.

    Update 2: “I deeply regret the comments I made today and they were not authorized by the campaign in any way.Shaheen retracts his statement, and the Clinton campaign says he was operating solo. But the seed’s out there now, right? Pathetic. Whether this gutterball ploy was intended or not, I hope it backfires massively. Update 3: Sheehan resigns. Good riddance.

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