09/07/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Bill Clinton, Race Baiting and Phallic Symbols

"I am not a racist." - William Jefferson Clinton (Interview with Kate Snow, ABC News)

You know Democrats are in trouble when the only two-term Democratic president since F.D.R. is reduced to stating he's "not a racist." Especially when this president was championed by the African American community during his presidency, right up until Jesse Jackson, Jr. questioned whether Hillary Clinton cried for Katrina victims, the primary moment when the baiting over race began. But once someone like Bob Herbert starts drawing out phallic symbols and juxtaposing "call me" references from Harold Ford days, when there are none, you know we've all gone down a rocky one way road. Can Keith Olbermann bringing up the phalluses be far behind? Nope, he did that just recently; yet another moment when Mr. Olbermann chose his anti Edward R. Murrow persona that lurks within. You'll have to figure out why Bob Herbert also selected the role of being James Clyburn of the general election. It's certainly not going to do Barack Obama any good at all. But John McCain's got to love it.

Everyone knew we had racial issues in this country, but what we're seeing play out from the primaries to the general election isn't coming from American voters. It's coming from Democrats, politicians, analysts and strategists, including liberal columnists and media types, including bloggers who jumped the race gun, all because Richard Nixon, the GOP's southern strategy, followed by Lee Atwater, once divided to conquer in order to win the presidency, back when race baiting was the thing.

However, when you have William Jefferson Clinton feeling compelled to say in an interview that he is "not a racist" after a tough Democratic primary season, you know that whatever sins the GOP delivered before (and will again), they've now been passed along to Democrats and so called progressives in an effort to either get ahead of what is believed to be coming, or to draw a line on a dare that challenges people who are afraid to stand up to false race charges, because in America, we all know the prejudice is there, especially if you're willing to conjure it up, ala Bob Herbert.

Not even William Jefferson Clinton is safe. Can anyone doubt why he holds fury?

Jon Stewart had a blast with all of this as you can see in the video above. It made my heart sing to see him roundly reject the race baiting, while ridiculing the players on both sides. Because Democrats have lost our race cherry, which in a year that was supposed to be a walk, we seem intent on making it a slow, embarrassing crawl.

But what this whole affair does for Democratic nominee is something quite horrifying. Not only does this recent back and forth on race belittle the candidacy of the first African American who began this general election with an overwhelming advantage. It hands John McCain a shield, protecting him and his party from all the scurrilous things that will no doubt continue to be said, emailed and whispered about Barack Obama. Because when the politically astute hear an African American Democratic candidate telling a crowd that his Republican opponent will ask "Did I mention he's black," when his opponent has done no such thing, we hear ugly things echoing forward, as a disquieted wolf cries. It also rips the scab off memories, which many of us are trying to put down for country.

So, let Bob Herbert trot out imaginary fiction of phalluses in McCain ads, citing scantily clad white women, in rhetorical flourishes of race baiting that would make someone prejudice blush at the audacity. Keith Olbermann can ask Jonathan Alter about them, too, because he long ago proved he has no boundaries on his type of "journalism." However, when on the same day William Jefferson Clinton is compelled to insert into the political blood stream that he's "not a racist," the combination of sound bites meets up in a fusion so explosive for Democrats that it becomes a gift of dynamite for Republicans that could propel them to a racial high road they don't deserve to hold.

"I am not a racist" is something William Jefferson Clinton should never feel compelled to utter. That he did sends a message to John McCain, which was delivered loud and clear when Obama stated "Did I mention he's black?" Republicans won't make Democratic mistakes, because they don't care what you call them, as long as they win. It's repetitive, but it's also a reminder.

This all traces back to the Democratic primaries. It also traces back to Rep. James Clyburn, who inflamed it because he could and he knew it would work, though it left carnage behind that's not long forgotten. Oh, and by the way, like Bob "fantasy phalluses" Herbert, neither of these guys are white. Just in case you're keeping score. McCain is and right now it's his advantage.