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Posted by on Jan 14, 2008 in Politics | 0 comments

Clinton, Obama Inch Towards Truce On Race Issue


They’re not quite singing “Kumbaya,” but they may be stepping back from a polarizing abyss that threatened to heighten Democratic Party tensions heading into the 2008 Presidential elections. New York Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama seemingly inched towards a truce to defuse an ugly, escalating argument over the use of race in the Presidential nomination campaign.

(UPDATE: See sampling of blog reaction at end.)

It ain’t art, it ain’t perfect, but (at this writing at least) it seems to be a beginning:

Democratic presidential rivals Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama stepped back from a controversy over race Monday night, agreeing that a prolonged clash over civil rights could harm their party’s overall drive to win the White House.

The two leading Democratic contenders shifted course as Republicans pointed toward Tuesday’s pivotal primary in Michigan, where Mitt Romney and John McCain both pledged to lead a revival for a state and an auto industry ravaged by recession.

Obama was the first to suggest a cooling of the rhetoric on race, calling reporters together to say he didn’t want the campaign “to degenerate into so much tit-for-tat, back-and-forth that we lose sight of why all of us are doing this.”

And in fact, it was creating bitterness among Democrats.

Obama backers felt the Clinton camp was using code words, innuendo and surrogates to inject the race issue (and for the third time a high profile Clinton supporter injected the “issue” of Obama’s admitted youthful drug use into the news cycle). Clinton supporters felt Hillary & Co were getting a raw deal by an Obama camp that was quick to play the victim card and wrongfully suggest they were raising the race issue…with an all-too-agreeable news media to pick up the narrative.

Referring to Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards, [Obama] said that while they may have disagreements, “we share the same goals. We’re all Democrats, we all believe in civil rights, we all believe in equal rights.”

Clinton’s campaign issued a statement in the same vein about an hour after Obama spoke, saying it was time to seek common ground. “And in that spirit, let’s come together, because I want more than anything else to ensure that our family stays together on the front lines of the struggle to expand rights for all Americans,” she said.

Strikingly, though, one of Clinton’s supporters, New York Rep. Charles Rangel, was sharply critical of Obama in an interview during the day. “How race got into this thing is because Obama said ‘race,'” Rangel, the dean of the Congressional Black Caucus, said on television station NY1.

But Rangel has long been a loud cannon (or, rather, mouth).

Still, it isn’t hard to see why the Clinton camp — at least for now — has moved to gingerly take the olive branch held out in front of it.

In the course of 24 hours:

(1) Hillary Clinton was booed by a smattering of people at the MLK day event in New York. NOT a good sign:

The catcalls came when Clinton was introduced and her speech drew only tepid applause compared to the boisterous ovations drawn by many of the pastors and reverends — not to mention a hip-hop artist and slam poet — who took the podium before her.

Her participation in the event drew nary a mention during nearly two hours of speeches, performances, prayers and acknowledgments. But she was a late addition to the event — SEIU Local 32BJ President Michael Fishman said he didn’t know Clinton would be there until he arrived at the rally. The SEIU affiliate supports Clinton, though a union official stressed that the event was not a Clinton campaign rally.

The New York senator called on the roughly 2,500, mostly black attendees “to fulfill [King’s] unfinished dream and to live the legacy that we have inherited.” Some of her biggest applause came when she cited her rival for the Democratic nomination, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, who had his share of supporters at the event.

(2) Former President Bill Clinton was again seemingly on the defensive but actually the attack. Earlier, many blogs reported a memo put out by Obama’s camp on race listing various alleged incidents. So Mr. Clinton appeared on the Roland S. Martin Show, which has a large African-American audience. And he charged HE has his own list, too — with 80 Obama camp attacks on Hillary Clinton. (Clinton is increasingly resembling someone campaigning for the highest office itself rather than a relative or surrogate.)

“I’ve got before me a list of 80 attacks on Hillary that are quite personal by Sen. Obama and his campaign going back six months that I’ve had pulled,” he said, speaking to CNN contributor Roland Martin on WVON-AM’s “The Roland S. Martin Show” based in Chicago, Illinois.

The list apparently was not released to reporters (yet).

(3) Mr. Clinton continued to defend the version of comments made by a Clinton supporter who seemed to be the third Clinton supporter to shove the Obama youthful drug use “issue” into the news cycle. And he defended him in a way that is likely to irk Obama’s supporters:

A recording of comments Sunday by Black Entertainment Television founder Bob Johnson that appeared to criticize Obama’s admitted past drug use were played on Martin’s show.

Johnson later said he was referring to Obama’s community organizing efforts.

“When you listen to that tone and the inflection, he was not talking about community organizing. It seemed to be very clear what he was implying,” Martin said.

The former president said Johnson needs to be “taken at his word,” adding that “nobody knew” what he would say and “it wasn’t part of any planned strategy.”

“This, to me, is another example of [the Obama campaign] wanting a double standard,” he said.

Read our EARLIER POST about this controversy.

Will this evolve into a real “truce?” Or are the polls simply too close for anything but hardball — played as hardball while one or more sides insists it isn’t playing hardball but that it’s only perceived that way?

And, if the “truce” calls apart, will (a) the Democrats be united during the elections and (b) will New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg sense an irresistible opportunity to jump in as an independent candidate to appeal to voters who are sick of the seek-and-destroy political culture that has grown since the late 1980s?

The controversy over race, with accusations of innuendo, surrogates, comments that were denied and finger pointing on both sides has been escalating and seems a disservice to a country that’s already divided enough. Some voters most likely would like to screech out this message:


UPDATE: By request from some readers, here’s the clip from CNN that deals with Bob Johnson and Clinton’s radio appearance:

A lot of blog reaction is HERE.

The Democratic Daily:

Okay. So, everybody take a deep breath… The candidates have both spoken on this mess and there appears to be a truce. As I’ve said here a couple of times in the past day or so… “Let’s keep our eyes on the prize please.”

Marc Ambinder:

Whomsoever is the nominee will have to unify the party, and the more festering these wounds are, the harder it will be.

Jules Crittenden:

Sorry, I know, this is about the politics of political correctness. Excuse the tangent. So who won this bizarre exercise? There’s the theory that the Clintons were trying to play the race card, cut into Obama’s support, just in case no one had noticed he’s black. Looking at what was actually said amd how it was said, I doubt it, especially given the likelihood it’s warmed blacks up to Obama, after the black political establishment’s embarrassing failure to embrace him.

Martin Luther King Day is coming up, and Hillary’s already being booed. Who knows, maybe Hill and Bill have a really clever, cynical plan to make her the victim in this. Sort of a double-reverse race card.


Whatever the motivation, let’s hope this is the beginning of a trend that gets us back to debating the real issues of the campaign. We have two good candidates in Obama and Clinton; let’s hear them out and then decide which one is best qualified to lead us in November.

I also sincerely hope that Hillary puts a cork in her husband’s mouth from here on out. I don’t think that Bill Clinton is helping her at all, and in fact I believe his constant presence at the forefront of her campaign is beginning to overshadow her. It may be leading people to rightly ask the question of who is actually going to be the president if she is elected. Bill Clinton was a great president in my view but I still don’t want to see a third Clinton term. We need to move forward into the future and not back into the past.

–Tom Watson (as usual) needs to be read in full:

As Johnny Thunders said, now is today. And over the last two weeks or so as a black man beat out a white woman and was in turn beaten by that very woman in fair turnabout, the fissures of identity politics reappeared on the smooth plaster ceiling of our imagined American reconciliation. And two questions have been asked aloud to which there is no explicit answer: are we a post-racial society, as some suggest – and are we ready for a woman president?

I don’t know, but as the media tarts up supposedly racial tensions between the two leading Democratic candidates, I was pleased to see the contenders themselves step up today in a joint attempt to cool those embers. I give Senator Barack Obama a great deal of credit for this statement – it serves his own campaign and the American electorate very well indeed…

…The Clinton campaign, somewhat unfairly accused of having some kind of strategy about raising the spectre of race (both the Clintons’ record and their own political self-interest argue strongly against it), posted its own conciliatory comments.

Blue Ollie:

I have an opinion all right; it is my guess that the Clintons aren’t used to being challenged from their own party. But it appears as if the two camps are calling for people to cool off a bit, as are prominent journalists. I’ll say this right now: I don’t trust HRC to keep a truce. Perhaps I’ll be proved wrong.