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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The elephant in the room

If you think race in American politics is a simply a bad memory of the past, can I interest you in buying a Bridge to Nowhere?

Pundits and exit polls have been quick to label Barack Obama's resounding win in South Carolina as somehow less than impressive because he relied on a heavy African-American turnout.

Better yet, there are already suggestions that something may be amiss because Obama received a higher percentage of support from white voters in Iowa and New Hampshire than in the Palmetto State.


The spin, like the final days of the campaign, reflect the influence of William Jefferson Clinton, who was roundly criticized for the tone and substance of his efforts on behalf of his wife. But while Clinton may have behaved more like a vice presidential hatchet man that a former president, he wasn't doing anything the the eventual Republican nominee will do -- with far less subtlety.

Starting with Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy right through Karl Rove's microtargeting, Republicans have been electing presidents by playing the race card. Some of the finest purveyors of that strategy have even hailed from South Carolina (a reason to look askance at the spin about Obama doing better in lily white Iowa and New Hampshire than in a state still embroiled over whether the Stars and Bars should be on its flag).

The Republican Party is in serious trouble. The presidential hopefuls are running away from the current two-term occupant of the Oval Office, a man pushing the record for longest time without majority approval. It's a standard line in the GOP playbook that when the going gets tough, the tough go negative.

If the nominee is Hillary Clinton, the race will focus on the 42nd President. If it is Barack Obama, it will focus on his resume and his skin color (and the intersection of the two when he was a community organizer).

So while it is appropriate to lament the Clintons' injection of race into the campaign, it's also appropriate to note they were simply acknowledging The Elephant in the room. It's better to bring out the trash now, sift through it and hopefully move on than wait until the fall campaign.

It will also prove a test for Obama's ability to deliver the message of hope that the majority of Americans are ready to accept after decades of government based on fear and smear.

So on to Super Duper Tuesday.

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