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Earl Ofari Hutchinson Headshot

Bill Got it Right About Jackson and Obama

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Former president Bill Clinton simply said that Jesse Jackson won the South Carolina Democratic presidential primary twice and ran a good campaign in the process. So what's wrong with that? It's a factual and accurate statement. Jackson did win the Democratic primary in that state in 1984 and again in 1988 as well as a handful of other states that year. He did it by grabbing most of the black vote. He ran a good campaign to win it, yet he still didn't get the nomination. There was nothing demeaning, disrespectful, or racially offensive in what Clinton said about Jackson, and absolutely nothing that impugned Obama.

But predictably and on cue the Hillary-haters went berserk, practically salivating at the chance to do what they have elevated to a fine but dirty art. They pounced with their by now stock template assortment of digs that twist, mangle, and hack up any and every utterance that drops from the tongue of the Clintons. By the time they filled in the blanks on their loathe Clinton template, they had Clinton race baiting, tossing the race card, and converting Obama into the black president. Obama, of course, took the cue and just as predictably fired back and that juiced up the hate-Hillary crowd even more.

The idea, of course, is to continue to tar the Clintons as the Mr. and Mrs. Attila the Hun of American politics, and cast Obama as the eternally suffering victim of their politically bloody machinations. Apart from their obsessive pound of the Clintons, what makes this political farce work is the very thing that they bash the Clintons for, namely talking race. The public mantra of the press and the private mumblings of much of the public have been: is America ready for a black president? That mantra has been chanted, chimed, hollered, and whispered the instant that Obama stood on the steps of the Old Capitol building in Springfield, Illinois, and tossed his hat in the presidential ring last February. The variations on that mantra have come fast and furious: Would whites vote for him? Would Latinos vote for him? Would even blacks vote for him? Would the old guard civil rights guys, namely Jackson and Al Sharpton back him? Is he qualified? Does he have the experience? The subtext of race has dripped underneath every one of the variations on the question of Obama the "black president."

Then there's Oprah. Her barnstorm through South Carolina with its top heavy black vote numbers as well as a couple of states triggered cracks about Oprah playing the race card in unabashedly tooting the horn of the only mainstream black candidate in the presidential hunt. The Obama camp quickly sniffed a good thing in the race angle and hammered Hillary for allegedly trashing Martin Luther King, Jr. by her giving Lyndon Johnson the title of the civil rights guru. They had it both ways when they indignantly and self-righteously screamed foul when Clinton fought back. They claimed that Obama never uttered a word about her, King and race. His Teflon coat remained unmarred.

That brings us straight back to Bill. From the moment he hit the stump and the campaign trail for the Mrs. The attacks have been relentless for his alleged bullying, browbeating, and always dirty tactics. That culminated in the classic retort from candidate Obama that they're ganging up on me. That was enough for the hate-Hillary pack. They were off to the races again with the bad guy Bill knock, accusing him of egging, agitating and dirtying up the campaign. No surprise that he got the race finger jabbed at him. In fact the surprise would have been if it hadn't been.

The only thing missing from this pathetic little play act is for Jackson to hammer Clinton for daring to state the truth about him. Mercifully, that has not happened -- yet. Jackson had the decency to quip that he didn't think what Bill said about him was racist. But then again, maybe I'm speaking to soon. Someone in the Obama camp is probably putting the squeeze on Jackson to recant and call Bill a racist even as I say that. The message to Bill: Open your mouth and get smacked down.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).