Hillary Clinton Should Address Race, Now

05/25/2011 12:30 pm ET
  • James Zogby President, Arab American Institute; author, 'Arab Voices'

On March 18 of this year, Barack Obama delivered a powerful and much-needed address on race in America. It is past time for Hillary Clinton to do the same.

I say it is past time because, in recent weeks, we have seen troubling signs of a racial divide within the Democratic coalition, some of which has been fueled, whether intentionally or not, by the Clinton campaign and its surrogates.

Even if Senator Clinton did not mean to disparage Barack Obama and Martin Luther King, Jr., with her comments in New Hampshire; even if Bill Clinton did not mean to dismiss Barack Obama's win in South Carolina (or for that matter Jesse Jackson's 1988 victory), with his off-hand comments after that primary; even if Geraldine Ferraro had a deeper point in mind (although, for the life of me I can't figure out what it might have been); even if the former president did not mean to imply that, as long as Obama was a candidate, race would intrude on the great debate this country needed and would only be able to have if McCain and Clinton, "the two patriotic Americans," were the candidates; even if the Clinton campaign did not mean to keep the Jeremiah Wright story alive long after it should have been put to rest; even if Senator Clinton and her surrogates did not intend to continue to raise questions about Obama's patriotism and religion but were only answering questions they were asked; and finally, even if she was only quoting the Associated Press by noting that "Senator Obama's support among working, hardworking Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites... were supporting me" -- the simple fact is that at least in part due to all of this, race has reared its ugly head in this primary in a deeply divisive way.

Those of us who have been out campaigning have heard it. Those of us who are superdelegates have received emails suggesting only Clinton can win, with the not too-subtle implication that it is because only she can win over white voters. That, of course, is not true as Iowa, Wisconsin, Virginia, and Illinois, among many others have clearly demonstrated.

For decades now, Republicans have exploited race and fear as weapons in ugly campaigns to defeat Democrats. Nixon's, Reagan's, and George H.W. Bush's campaigns come to mind. I do not recall race being used before in a Democratic presidential campaign.

There are those who suggest that, when this campaign is over, the party will unify. I believe that waiting is not an option. Senator Clinton needs to clear the air and drain this poison from our party before any greater damage is done. A speech on race would be a sign of real leadership, and genuine healing, and bring us closer to the victory we so desperately need in November.