The 2008 presidential campaign is heating up intensely, with the two Democratic rivals, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, at each others' throats in a fight for political survival. And it ain't pretty. In the past week the issues of gender and race entered the fray in a way that would make Karl Rove proud. But it's not as two-sided as some are saying. The culprit, in my opinion, is Obama and his surrogates, who have ratcheted up the incendiary rhetoric to a reckless, embarrassing level. For Obama, it's not about black or white, but gray. He's become quite adept at saying one thing and doing another. Of presenting himself as the candidate of change; one who'll bring civility and honorability back to the campaign trail. Of staying "above the fray," but then fraying with the best of 'em. Of blurring the racial lines in this hotly contested race and using race in both an inspirational manner and a devious, calculating one. And that's what we saw this past week. The real Barack Obama.
It all started with the now infamous comments by both Hillary and Bill Clinton, which were taken so way out of context, and blown so way out of proportion, that many in Washington and in the media should be ashamed of themselves. In short, during a recent speech, the former president, while characterizing Obama's positions on Iraq (on purportedly being so different than Hillary's), frustratingly said "This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen." Somehow Clinton, who was affectionately dubbed "the first black president" by Toni Morrison back in the 90's, got entwined in a game of verbal Twister not seen since his "what 'is' is" days. The comment was interpreted as "Obama's candidacy is a fairy tale," with Bubba accused of racial insensitivity. Give us a break. All anyone needs to do is listen to the entire speech and Bill's point becomes quite clear. But that didn't stop NBC's Tim Russert, host of Meet the Press, from playing just the short comment clip during his Hillary interview Sunday and asking her about Bill's racial insensitivity. And it didn't stop South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn from piling on about this supposed racial insensitivity. And it didn't stop the NY Times columnist Bob Herbert from totally distorting the facts either. Nor did it stop countless others from spewing this nonsense.
And then, as Murphy's Law would have it, Hillary fanned the flames with her own alleged racial insensitivity. Commenting last week on the civil rights movement, Hillary suggested that Obama's inspirational speeches are not enough to truly effect change. Of the comparisons Obama has drawn for himself to John Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Clinton said "Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964...It took a president to get it done." Ruh-ro. More wild accusations. More distortions. Say what you will, but Clinton's comment is dead-on. A grass-roots movement alone cannot move a nation towards real change without legislators heeding the will of the people and passing legislation ensuring lasting change. Back in the 60's the system worked. The people, led by Dr. King, brought the civil rights crisis to a boil. And Johnson used his position of power to make it law. That was and is Clinton's point.
Let's be sure about one thing: it is utterly irresponsible and reprehensible to portray the Clintons as racists or of being racially insensitive. What they have done over the years for minorities is well documented and respected. They have been champions of, and within, the Black community. The events of the past week are nothing more than shameful attempts by the Obama camp to play the race card for pure political gain.