No to Billary and the Politics of Division
by Forgiven, Mon Feb 04, 2008 at 04:40:16 AM EST
There has been a lot of ink and paper used up to explain the South Carolina primary and what it means to the candidates and the electoral process. The two facts that I think South Carolina makes abundantly clear are that the voters are rejecting the politics of divisiveness and the idea of a co-Presidency. Now while much will be made of the fact that the majority of Democratic voters in South Carolina are black, I believe that there is still data that can be gleaned from the results and despite the fact Bill Clinton made absolutely clear that Jesse Jackson carried South Carolina the electorate today was different than when Jesse ran.
Despite protestations to the contrary by Clinton supporters many Democrats both black and white were uncomfortable with the tone the campaign had taken the last few weeks in South Carolina, led by Bill Clinton. The thing one must remember is that in politics perception is reality. So while many of his comments may have been misconstrued, the fact that a number of prominent Democrats were complaining should have been a clue to tone it down. I received many comments that Bill Clinton was only doing what the spouses of other candidates were doing, which of course is ridiculous. No matter how hard they try the other candidate's spouses can never speak with the authority or the perceived expertise of a Bill Clinton. Many people thought that Bill had elevated himself to candidate Bill Clinton and not just husband-advocate Bill Clinton. The problem for Hillary is that having Bill Clinton out front detracts from her and her message of independence and experience.
Whether you believe the comments made by Bill and campaign surrogates were divisive or racially motivated is really unimportant, what is important is what the voters believed. In South Carolina, the voters believed that they were. Now it can be argued that the voters were swayed by the coverage and the responses of other Democrats, but that misses the point and sounds condescending. Are we to believe that the voters, the majority of who are black in South Carolina cannot determine for themselves what is divisive and racially charged? The thing that the Clinton campaign misread was the psyche of black people which is strange since Bill was the "first black" President. Blacks may have questions about another black person, but when that black person is attacked it is as if all black people are attacked and the wagons are circled. I find it hard to believe that the major events of last year would not have made this very clear to any outside observers.
The way you campaign in the black community is not with a white man attacking a black man, this will automatically raise the communal defenses. For examples of this phenomenon in action one merely has to review the history of black elected officials in America. From Adam Clayton Powell to Mayor Marion Berry, the black community will more often than not rally around a black man being attacked by whites even if those attacks are justified. Bill Clinton falsely believed that he had the juice to cross the race line; he found out sadly that he did not. He listened to the old blacks on the payroll who were chanting, you were "the first black" President, you can do it. Billary! Billary! Billary! What he didn't recognize was that those blacks had lost any juice they had in the black community years ago and they were just as clueless as he was.
The other issue that the voters in South Carolina and I think may be played out across the country is this idea of a co-Presidency. While many Clinton supporters find the idea appealing, the two for the price of one argument has lost its luster. The idea of a co-Presidency congers up too many images of divisiveness and past battles. To give an example after the defeat in South Carolina, the first Clinton on the airwaves was not Hillary, it was Bill. And even after the primary Bill is still making more headlines than Hillary. This does not bode well for an independent female candidate running on her own experience and strength. It is too early to tell if the co-Presidency is dead, but for many it is a past they do not want recycled. Many people believe that if Bill is taking such a large role in the campaign will he also be taking a similar role in the White House? Also, if Hillary was co-President in the last Clinton administration it only stands to reason that Bill would occupy that same position in the new administration.
South Carolina is one state and too often people try to draw too many conclusions from one primary, remember Iowa? The one thing the Clintons are is smart and once again Hillary will reinvent herself and continue to fight. This election will not play out like past ones there are just too many dynamics at play, dynamics that have never been in play on such a large scale before. Anyone who claims to know the outcome is a fool. This electorate is too volatile and the issues too explosive to be able to predict or to rely on polls. Hillary will have to rein Bill in and once again become the focal point. This election is hers to win or lose. Relying on Bill's popularity as we have seen in South Carolina is a two-edged sword; if I were Hillary I would use that sword sparingly.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. - Daniel Patrick Moynihan