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Richard (RJ) Eskow Headshot

Holding Up a Mirror To the Clinton Cult

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What cave did you crawl out from? Your articles show what a Neanderthal you are.

The hate-filled emails and comments from Hillary Clinton supporters show up every time I criticize the Clinton campaign strategy. They're always the same: rage-filled, reflexive, and personal. Sometimes I suggest that people look in the mirror and reflect on what factors in this campaign have made them the kind of people who write hate mail to strangers.

You call Geraldine Ferraro a racist? I thought men, and I use the phrase lightly, like you went out with the '70s.

Actually, I didn't call Geraldine Ferraro a racist. I don't know if she is, and it doesn't matter. What I do know is that the former representative from the so-called "Archie Bunker district" knows exactly how some lower-income white voters feel about race and affirmative action. I know that Ferraro's an attorney - and a lifelong politico - who chooses her words carefully. And she repeated the same phrases several times. I also know that the Clinton campaign was slow to condemn her, and that the day she "resigned" she appeared on four or five television shows to repeat her comments - without further rebuke from Sen. Clinton. That's a classic strategem for continuing to spread a dirty message while retaining deniability for the candidate.

You are more sexist than the men that fought against women voting.

Got that? My piece - whose only reference to women was to mention Ferraro's mention of women, and to remind readers of Erica Jong's flippant racism- was more sexist than the men that fought against women voting. That would be the same piece where I wrote: "I remember the pleasure my then-wife and I felt when Rep. Ferraro was nominated ... As parents of a small girl who was already showing leadership traits, we ... saw (Ferraro) as the harbinger of a better and more inclusive politics."

What a neanderthal, huh?

... Obama would not be where he is if he were not black. It is the black voters that are winning him delegates.

Black voters are 12% of the electorate. Obama's received more white votes than black votes. He's also winning among independents and Republican crossover voters, both cohorts with very few black members. And Clinton was beating Obama among black voters until her surrogates started injecting race into the campaign. But nevertheless Obama is "lucky" to be African American, and with a African/Arabic-ish name. That's why the Presidency of Ahmad Jamal was followed immediately by that of his successor, Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

Of course, you can't condemn an entire campaign ... or its supporters ... based on the hate-filled fanatics in its midst. But the ability of otherwise reasonable Clinton supporters to tolerate and explain away inexcusable behavior is disturbing at best. Their best defense seems to be that all these racial innuendos are absolutely innocent episodes on the part of Clinton and her supporters. They usually garnish this defense with the argument that these innocent mistakes are then cleverly exploited and inflamed by that slick, shifty, overly clever Obama and his supporters.

So, let's see: Although they're the most sophisticated political couple in America - which is why you should vote for her - they and the team they've assembled keep making the same blunder over and over. Meanwhile their opponent's team is so much shrewder, tougher, smarter, and faster that they successfully use it against them again and again. And that's how supporters defend Clinton on the race issue.

Is that what "thirty-five years of experience" gets you?

For what it's worth, I don't believe it. Nor do I believe - even for a second - that Clinton or her core team are racist. But they're smart, and they're shrewd, and they know very well how to manipulate "microtrends" - including the racist "microtrend."

And, for all the outrage, it will work in Pennsylvania. I know that, not just from sociological study, but from having grown up in an ethnic enclave in upstate New York. The demographics of Utica are very much like those in some parts of Pennsylvania - Italian, Polish, Irish, as well as outliers like us - and I remember the outrage against affirmative action. Take Mrs. F, who said something like this to me when I was a teenager:

"Youse kids are going to have it tough, Ricky. These coloreds is coming up, and they wanna be the first in line. They don't want to work hard like we did, Ricky. Mark my words: Youse are gonna apply for jobs and the coloreds will get 'em first."

Geraldine Ferraro knows these people, too. What she was saying was that this black guy Obama is no different from that mythical "black guy" who took your cousin's job down at the plant. (Because, God forbid, we don't want voters to be reminded that NAFTA took those jobs - with President Clinton's support.)

Playing to those resentments will work in Pennsylvania. Make no mistake: The Geraldine Ferraro "fiasco" is a big win for Hillary Clinton. It will add to her margin on April 22.

And to those who suggest that Obama's too inexperienced to be President, and that race plays no part in that perception, I have two words for you:

John Edwards.

Edwards, also a gifted politician, actually has significantly less political experience than Obama (who, by the way, has four years of foreign policy grounding - which is four more than Bill Clinton had - and is older than Bill was when he ran). Here's a thought experiment: Imagine John Edwards had beaten Hillary in 14 of the last 17 states. Imagine he was leading in both the popular vote and the delegate count, and that she couldn't possibly win the nomination without the help of superdelegates.

Then imagine her offering Edwards the number two spot, and that being a plausible solution among media analysts and in the public mind.

Can't picture it? Neither can I. That's the subtle role that race is playing in this campaign.

Call me what you will, but I have never had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach before resulting from an election. Obama scares me to death.

That's exactly how the Clintons want my hate-mail correspondent to feel: terrified of the black man. Congratulations, Senator: Mission accomplished.

Oh, and by the way , I am female, over 50, and a professional. I am neither blue collar or uneducated. I just thought you might like to know so that you can know what kind of people loathe you.

The Clintons have raised the level of hatred in this campaign to an unprecedented level, at least in my lifetime, for a Democratic contest. They've convinced their followers that it's Obama who keeps bringing up race ... and if you criticize her in any way, you're a sexist. And what else? Oh, right. His followers are cultlike.

Irony, anyone?

And regardless of which candidate you support, something beautiful was happening in American politics for the first time: An African American was running for President and his race was not an issue. It was a truly postracial campaign. The Clintons killed that - methodically and deliberately - to further their increasingly long-shot ambitions.

And are Sen. Clinton's more reasonable supporters disturbed by this? Not a bit. It seems that we can get so invested in our preferred candidate that we persuade ourselves to ignore their bad behavior. In the end, her supporters don't seem to care about the manipulations. They'd rather explain them away.

This isn't a male/female split. Plenty of male Clinton supporters are rigid and unyielding in her defense, and many women support Obama from a feminist perspective (interesting discussion of that topic by Jessica Valenti, here). But, male or female, there are a lot of things some Clinton supporters don't seem to care about.

She voted for the war in Iraq to further her Presidential ambitions (or out of poor judgment she refused to acknowledge)?

They don't care.

She fueled war tension with Iran by voting for Kyl/Lieberman?

They don't care.

She can only win by the nomination by overturning the primary process and splitting the party?

They don't care.

She has damaged a fellow Democrat - one who's beating her for the nomination - purely out of self-interest?

They don't care.

She has either played on racial fears or blundered repeatedly in this sensitive area?

They don't care.

She has used the threat of terrorism in classic Rovian fashion - reinforcing a meme that will be used against any Democrat in November?

They don't care.

Bottom line? They want what they want, and as for the rest of it: They don't care. It's sad - very sad - because some of them are terrific people.

If you don't like what you see in this campaign, don't blame me.

Blame the mirror. Then, please ... reconsider.

(For further takes on this week, including me real feelings about Sen. Clinton (which are probably not what you think), see also: Fortune-Cookie Games)

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