Wednesday, May 14, 2008

White codes from the underground

Almost one week has passed since Hillary Clinton made this comment to reporters after last week's primaries in North Carolina and Indiana:

"Sen. Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again."

Neither the New York Times or the Washington Post, which, in unsigned editorials, issued a reprimand to Barack Obama about his remarks on "bitter" small-town Americans clinging to their "guns" and "religion," has felt the need to editorialize about Hillary's not-so-subtle "gaffe" on the racial polarization that has increasingly characterized the Democratic primary process. In Iowa, the first state to vote in the primary process, Obama won the plurality of white voters, and also won a greater percentage of female voters than any other candidate. And, yes, he also won almost 3 in 4 African-American voters. In Virginia, D.C. and Maryland, Obama won a majority of white men. He has won a majority of white voters in several more states, including Connecticut, Montana, Alaska and Colorado. For some reason, white voters who live in those states don't seem to count towards Obama's appeal across traditional racial lines. Only when the election turns to those states with a pronounced level of racism in their political culture -- and Pennsylvania, Indiana and, now, West Virginia, certainly fit that bill -- is Obama's inability to attract this month's most important constituency, the "white, working-class voter" a front-page story. We see editorial after editorial, column after column, and one talking head after another posing as a "political expert" of some sort wondering what Obama's "problem" is with this fetishized and largely imaginary demographic. Why can't he be like Bobby Kennedy and connect with rural white voters in Appalachia?

Two reasons:

1. Bobby Kennedy was a Kennedy.
2. Bobby Kennedy was white.

The problem is not Obama's. The problem rests with the racist attitudes that many poor and lower-income whites have with a black man running for president. Phrase the "problem" the way it should be phrased.

Hillary has not been asked to clarify her remarks, nor has anyone in the political-media complex demanded that give a major address on race to clarify what she said, something that Obama was asked to do after Jeremiah Wright's "You Tube" clips went public the first time and most certainly John McCain would have been asked to do had he said something so outwardly racially coded and offensive. After Jeremiah Wright came crawling out of the woodwork a second time, the Times and Post editorialized on the need for Obama to distance himself from Wright, as if Obama and Wright held conference calls every morning to plan the day's events or to conspire on ways to keep the white man down. The closest any mainstream media outlet has come to holding Hillary accountable for her comments came last night when Wolf Blitzer, "interviewing" her on CNN, asked her if she agreed with Rep. Charlie Rangel's opinion that her words were about the "dumbest" thing anybody could say. Hillary's response: "Probably so."

Not yes. Not no. Just "probably."

And, yes, predictably lower-income white voters in West Virginia went for Hillary, just as next week's voters in Kentucky meeting this definition will as well. Hillary's comments were not accidental or poorly chosen. They were deliberate and calculated. She has had ample opportunity to apologize for her comments or claim that she made them without thinking them through. She hasn't. Her comments were a clear signal to white voters distrustful of a black man running for office that they should vote for her because . . . well, she's white and so are they. An analysis more complicated than that could only come from someone who has never lived in or navigated the racial culture of the South, or states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana. Article after article continues to appear in the mainstream press warning Obama to make things right with the "white working class" or else face the consequences in the fall. What, exactly, is Obama supposed to do? His economic platform is interchangeable, for the most part, with Hillary's. And like Hillary's, his ideas offer a reasonably clear alternative to John McCain's plan for America, which relies on the usual Republican recipe of tax cuts, corporate favors and reducing incentives to create American jobs that pay a living wage by encouraging businesses to export their jobs to cheap labor markets overseas. A Hillary voter determined to go for McCain isn't making that choice based on policy, but rather race.

If the Clintons' conduct in this presidential season were not so offensive, there would be something almost sympathy-inducing about Hillary's final lap in the "Spinal Tap" phase of her candidacy, where she is trotting out her latest personality transformation as a blue-collar white working girl in hopes of putting a few fans in all those empty seats. She is smart and determined, although not smarter or more determined than dozens of other politicians who have made long careers for themselves. She clearly sees her candidacy as a statement about the transformation of women in politics, and that the United States needs to follow the world's other major democracies and elect women to hold the nation's highest office. She has endured an incredible amount of public and private humiliation in her thirty-year partnership with Bill, and, to a certain extent, cannot be faulted for seeing her Senate seat and once-hopeful presidential bid as compensatory damages for what she's endured.

On the other hand, her "career," however one chooses to define it, is still, after all these years in the public eye, still a mystery. Hillary has never accomplished anything of significance in public life, which wouldn't be a big deal if she hadn't branded herself as a know-it-all policy wonk and experienced wizard of Washington politics. She has lied repeatedly throughout the primary campaign about her "accomplishments," and yet received relatively little scrutiny of criticism for the mainstream press for her whoppers and exaggerations. Since the disastrous turn in South Carolina, Bill and Hillary have tag-teamed a George and Georgette Wallace routine, speaking dismissively of over-educated soft elites who wouldn't know a hard day's work if jumped up and bit them on their carefully sculpted and exfoliated noses. And although the Times was offended enough last month by the racial appeals of the Clinton campaign to caution her against taking the "low road to victory," the mainstream press has mostly shrugged at Hillary's extraordinary offensive comments and behavior. Just imagine if Barack Obama had said that his gender made him the more "electable" candidate in November, and that Hillary had better make things right with hard-working men or else face the prospect of a blowout. The Clintons would have played those comments up non-stop, and the press would have obliged them, as it did with Obama's "guns" and "bitter" gaffe and the celestial visits from his pastor, Jeremiah Wright.

So now Hillary plays out a campaign that can go nowhere. Continuing to run a campaign that about nothing more than herself cannot help Barack Obama in November. Hillary is not running to highlight policy differences with Obama, and certainly not running to distinguish herself from John McCain, about whom she has had kinder things to say about his potential presidency than her Democratic opponent. Stand in the parking lots of West Virginia strip malls pining for votes cannot be what she imagined doing a year ago when she announced to the world in the well-lit sunroom of her multi-million dollar Chappaqua, New York, home that she was running for president, and "in it to win it." All that is left now for Hillary to do is all she has ever known, which is to attack and attack and blame and blame her opponents. An indulgent press continues to run stories, in print and on the 24 hour news channels, about Hillary's chances of winning the Democratic nomination and even speculating on her vice-presidential choices, even though she has absolutely no chance of securing the nomination. Her entire campaign is now a hoax, based solely on some narcissistic need to remain at the center of attention. Sure enough, hours after her West Virginia win, some guy was on CNN with his laser trying to make a case of "what if's" for Hillary's candidacy to emerge victorious. Why does the mainstream media continue to insist that Hillary is a viable candidate for the Democratic nomination when she has already lost? Why indulge this charade? Why not simply call her candidacy the racially-coded exercise in the politics of resentment that it consciously chose to become? I'm not sure which is more astonishing, the retro-racial politics the Clintons chose to pursue at the expense of their self-respect or the mainstream media's willingness to enable them without a trace of their own deception.

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