Giving it their worst: The Clintons#039; racial rhetoric

by Beacon Staff • March 5, 2008

Although she is behind in delegates even after Tuesday's victories in Texas and Ohio, the former first lady still has a chance to win the nomination.,As the merciless fight for the Democratic nomination continues, one thing has become clear: Sen. Hillary Clinton is willing to tarnish her family's solid reputation on civil rights if it means scraping together a few extra votes.

Although she is behind in delegates even after Tuesday's victories in Texas and Ohio, the former first lady still has a chance to win the nomination. But at what cost will victory come? While the Clintons were once revered by minorities, particularly blacks, this primary has seen the same constituencies flock to Sen. Barack Obama, and it's not just because of his race.

The first sign of the Clinton's softened "Southern strategy" came at the first bit of real panic in the campaign, when Obama won the South Carolina primary. Former president Bill Clinton said after that loss, in what was surely a cynical message crafted by campaign spinsters but disguised as an offhand remark, "Jesse Jackson won South Carolina in '84 and '88."

The remark's veiled meaning-that, of course, Obama, a black politician, won South Carolina, a heavily black state-signaled that Bill Clinton would do anything to see his wife succeed, even sacrificing the integrity of his position as America's "first black president," a title bestowed upon him by author Toni Morrison in 1998.

Those who have followed the campaign have since realized that Hillary isn't going to let her husband drag the Clinton legacy on race through the mud all by himself.

In their most recent televised debate, held in Ohio, Clinton attempted to link Obama to controversial Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Obama responded that he did not endorse Farrakhan's racist views and found his anti-Semitism reprehensible.

Even so, Clinton pressed the issue, asking that Obama reject Farrakhan completely, which he proceeded to do. The banter made for good theatre, rare at these increasingly dry debates, but it was also clear what Clinton was attempting to do. By linking Obama to a controversial black Muslim, she was trying to paint Obama as someone who sympathizes with the anti-white and anti-Jewish elements of "his" people.

But as with the former president's Jesse Jackson quip, the Clintons' real dirty politicking lies in their powers of subtle suggestion. During the March 2 episode of "60 Minutes," Clinton was asked if she thought there was any truth to the rumors that her opponent is a Muslim. She responded that she did not. "There's nothing to base that on, as far as I know," she said.

Politicians make gaffes all the time, but it's rare for those as experienced and calculating as Hillary Clinton. This was no mistake. The senator knows with 100 percent certainty that Obama is a Christian. By leaving the door open to other theories via her "as far as I know" qualifier, she was feeding the flames of a xenophobic non-story well known as a complete slur.

If Clinton truly runs the hyper-controlled campaign that many give her credit for, then there is also reason to be concerned about "Children," a recent television ad produced by her campaign. The spot focuses on national security, asking voters if they wouldn't feel more comfortable with a person of her experience answering the White House "red phone" in the event of an urgent crisis. Something in the background of the spot, however, has many in the blogosphere buzzing about a racist subtext.

For just a moment, a child is seen sleeping in pajamas which seem to read, "Good night." However, the boy's shirt is creased in such a way that "night" is shortened to "nig." Although difficult to notice at first glance-at least on a conscious level-it is unmistakable on a close viewing.

It is entirely possible, and probably likely, that the three letters were an unfortunate oversight. But students of political advertisements are taught that there are no mistakes, no haphazard decisions in any frame of a good TV spot. We may never know whether the flash was intentional, but given Hillary Clinton's track record on race so far in this campaign, it would sadly not be shocking if the epithet's inclusion was a conscious decision.

Clinton may win the nomination and she may not. What a shame, though, that this election has turned her into a veritable Richard Nixon, exploiting the most loathsome suspicions that haunt American voters.