Lucky to be Black

I really am trying to lower my political caloric intake right now — and, for the most part, have, thanks to a hectic few days of dealing with the adventures of buying a house — but the events of the past week have simply been unavoidable and difficult to let go unremarked upon. The posts I haven’t written this week would have reflected negatively on my chosen candidate, blistered your eyeballs and, in a few cases, possibly even ended casual friendships with a few Clinton supporters who are otherwise wonderful, rational people.

In a situation like this, you hope someone else will put what you’re thinking into more palatable words, and earlier this week, Keith Olbermann did exactly that.  Today, it’s RJ Esko over at the Huffington Post, responding to Clinton supporters who send him hate mail “every time I criticize the Clinton campaign strategy.”

… Obama would not be where he is if he were not black. It is the black voters that are winning him delegates.

Black voters are 12% of the electorate. Obama’s received more white votes than black votes. He’s also winning among independents and Republican crossover voters, both cohorts with very few black members. And Clinton was beating Obama among black voters until her surrogates started injecting race into the campaign. But nevertheless Obama is “lucky” to be African American, and with a African/Arabic-ish name. That’s why the Presidency of Ahmad Jamal was followed immediately by that of his successor, Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

Of course, you can’t condemn an entire campaign … or its supporters … based on the hate-filled fanatics in its midst. But the ability of otherwise reasonable Clinton supporters to tolerate and explain away inexcusable behavior is disturbing at best. Their best defense seems to be that all these racial innuendos are absolutely innocent episodes on the part of Clinton and her supporters. They usually garnish this defense with the argument that these innocent mistakes are then cleverly exploited and inflamed by that slick, shifty, overly clever Obama and his supporters.

So, let’s see: Although they’re the most sophisticated political couple in America – which is why you should vote for her – they and the team they’ve assembled keep making the same blunder over and over. Meanwhile their opponent’s team is so much shrewder, tougher, smarter, and faster that they successfully use it against them again and again. And that’s how supporters defend Clinton on the race issue.

Is that what “thirty-five years of experience” gets you?

For what it’s worth, I don’t believe it. Nor do I believe – even for a second – that Clinton or her core team are racist. But they’re smart, and they’re shrewd, and they know very well how to manipulate “microtrends” – including the racist “microtrend.”

And, for all the outrage, it will work in Pennsylvania. I know that, not just from sociological study, but from having grown up in an ethnic enclave in upstate New York. The demographics of Utica are very much like those in some parts of Pennsylvania – Italian, Polish, Irish, as well as outliers like us – and I remember the outrage against affirmative action. Take Mrs. F, who said something like this to me when I was a teenager:

“Youse kids are going to have it tough, Ricky. These coloreds is coming up, and they wanna be the first in line. They don’t want to work hard like we did, Ricky. Mark my words: Youse are gonna apply for jobs and the coloreds will get ’em first.”

Geraldine Ferraro knows these people, too. What she was saying was that this black guy Obama is no different from that mythical “black guy” who took your cousin’s job down at the plant. (Because, God forbid, we don’t want voters to be reminded that NAFTA took those jobs – with President Clinton’s support.)

Playing to those resentments will work in Pennsylvania. Make no mistake: The Geraldine Ferraro “fiasco” is a big win for Hillary Clinton. It will add to her margin on April 22.

And to those who suggest that Obama’s too inexperienced to be President, and that race plays no part in that perception, I have two words for you:

John Edwards.

Edwards, also a gifted politician, actually has significantly less political experience than Obama (who, by the way, has four years of foreign policy grounding – which is four more than Bill Clinton had – and is older than Bill was when he ran). Here’s a thought experiment: Imagine John Edwards had beaten Hillary in 14 of the last 17 states. Imagine he was leading in both the popular vote and the delegate count, and that she couldn’t possibly win the nomination without the help of superdelegates.

Then imagine her offering Edwards the number two spot, and that being a plausible solution among media analysts and in the public mind.

Can’t picture it? Neither can I. That’s the subtle role that race is playing in this campaign.

Anyone who attempts to argue that this has been a relatively clean primary campaign to-date is a) a Clinton supporter and/or a Republican, b) someone who has let their general cynicism and disdain for politics overtake their common sense, and/or c) simply not paying attention.

Thinking back to that ridiculous “It’s 3am. Who do you want answering the phone?” commercial, I’ll take the level-headed pragmatist who has, so far, admirably resisted the kind of counter-punches I’d have started throwing a long time ago. While I hope he can continue to stay on the relative high road and survive the trip, at this point I think most people would forgive him if he took a couple of hard shots to that fragile glass jaw Clinton has successfully hidden in plain sight so far, because clearly the media’s not going to muster more than the occasional light jab.

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