Advisers to Hillary Clinton said that her husband, Bill Clinton, would probably shift into a less combative role in her campaign after his attacks on Barack Obama drew sharp criticism from powerful Democrats. The latest controversy came after the former president compared Obama’s resounding victory in Saturday’s South Carolina primary, in which slightly more than half the voters were African-American, to Jesse Jackson’s victories in the state in 1984 and 1988. Hillary Clinton said the comparison was just an off-the-cuff remark. Critics accused Bill Clinton of suggesting that Obama merely appealed to black voters because he is black. (The New York Times, free registration)
What the commentators said
Democrats must be “shocked” to see the Clintons use their “divisive politics” being used “against one of their own,” said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. If a Republican had so blatantly tried to portray Obama—whose explicit campaign theme has been transcending race and uniting the country—as a “Rev. Jackson-style black candidate,” he would have been denounced as a “racist” trying to whip up support among white voters with a GOP “Southern strategy.” It will be “fascinating to see if Democrats and the press let the Clintons get away with” playing the race card so shamelessly.
Obama’s South Carolina win showed him to be much more than the “black candidate,” said The Christian Science Monitor in an editorial. He “drew votes across both racial and gender lines,” and nearly beat Clinton among white male voters. More importantly, Obama “stuck to the high ground” by refusing to play the race card in a bid for plentiful black votes.
There's no denying the significance of Obama’s historic victory, said the Los Angeles Times in an editorial. Obama is the “first black man with a realistic opportunity to be elected president of the union that Lincoln saved.” And “black men and women stood beside whites and a smattering of Latinos” to make him a state’s Democratic nominee in “the Confederacy’s cradle.” Whether you support Obama or Clinton, that’s “a moment to treasure.”
The Clintons are making a “risky gamble” by attacking Obama, said Robert Novak in the Chicago Sun-Times. “They are betting that African Americans will forget the slurs of January and loyally troop to polls in November.” A Clinton pollster has even said that Hispanic voters wouldn’t vote for a black candidate, attempting to create a “brown firewall” for Clinton’s campaign by “condoning Latino racial hostility toward the first African-American with a chance to become president.”
For anyone who was ever a “fan” of Bill Clinton, said Richard Stern in a New Republic blog, the spectacle of the last few days has been hard to watch. “The charming, decent, empathetic, learned, hard-working, sincere human being I once thought so wonderful,” now “black-baits as if an older, meaner Arkansas voice was let loose in him; he distorts Obama’s remarks about Republicans and Reagan as if he were the liar the impeachment-mad Republicans claimed he was.” He couldn’t do more to “sink Hillary’s candidacy” if he tried.