It's one of the oldest ethnic clichés in the book. The one that says beware of Greeks bearing gifts. But there's nothing ethnically incorrect about saying it when former Bush political guru Karl Rove bears political gifts to a Democrat. The recipient of the Rove largesse is Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama. In an open memo to Obama, Rove caused a titter when he ticked off six things that Obama should and could do to nail Hillary Clinton. Rove's sage suggestions were that he should mount an all-out no holds barred attack on her personality, record, and demeanor. Rove told Obama to stop sounding wishy-washy on the hot button issues such as immigration, and to tell the voters just who he is and what kind of change they'd expect in an Obama White House.
Since Rove is not a paid or unpaid consultant for Obama, those sound political stratagems he offered Obama on a public platter come with a price, or maybe better to say with Rove, an ulterior motive. It's not hard to figure it out what that is. Rove wants Obama to win. That seems to defy conventional GOP thinking that conservative Republicans are giddy with delight at the prospect of a Hillary nomination. Hillary carries mounds of baggage, being a woman, the Clinton name, the deep and resonant hate Bill residue from ultra rightists and Christian fundamentalists, and polls that consistently show Clinton has the lowest likeability ratings among the major candidates. She's so polarizing, so the thinking goes, that she'll single-handedly drive legions of Republican conservatives and fence leaning independents to storm the polls chanting an anybody-but-Hillary mantra. The clinical hate for Clinton in some circles dripped off shock jock Don Imus' lips his first day back on the job. Imus picked up the throw-away line from the late avowed Clinton basher Jerry Falwell who likened Clinton to the great Satan a couple of years back and refused to take it back when he got flack for it.
Rove also knows something else about Hillary. While she bottoms out on the issue of likeability, polls also show that voters like her for her strength and experience. And top gun Democrats will back her to the hilt. Despite a ton of negatives, these are the qualities that ultimately powered Rove's boss back into the White House. These are also the same qualities that ultimately could prove fatal to Obama's candidacy. Though he scores high on the likeability scale, he swaps places with Clinton on the crucial issue of experience. He's still widely regarded as too new, too untested, and too inexperienced to win a head-to-head contest with Giuliani.
Rove's Obama ploy, and that what it is, is a slick, sophisticated, reversal of the conservative Republican's devil tag on Clinton. But it's every bit as cynical, and calculating. Paint Obama as a good guy, a fresh face, and someone who can make a real change for America. The exact last things that Rove wants to see in a Democrat in the White House. But an on-the-attack Obama who dogs Clinton at every step can create havoc in the Democratic Party. It could plunge the party into an orgy of Clinton-Obama sniping, bashing, and finger pointing. That would fuel dissension, stoke bitter divisions and deflect attacks from Bush policies and the GOP candidates that for better or worse are Siamese twin like welded to him and his policies.
The contest would be reduced to a referendum on Hillary. The sores and wounds would be so deep that countless numbers of Democrats, especially black Democrats, who are torn down the middle between Clinton and Obama, would be lukewarm toward the eventual Democratic nominee, maybe lukewarm enough in the GOP's fondest hopes to stay home on Election Day.
Rove banks that Obama as the Democratic nominee would be even riper for the Republican pickings than Hillary. Though Obama is touted as the post-civil rights generation candidate -- meaning that he doesn't spew race politics as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton and doesn't make white voters viscerally cringe -- he's still an African-American. And race still matters in politics, and in some places matters a lot, especially as Rove well knows in the crucial battleground states of Ohio, Florida and other must win states.
Obama is tailor-made for sneaky, closet reminders that his color and allegiance to race-neutral politics is suspect. While white voters swear to interviewers and pollsters that they vote competence, not color (after all who wants to come off looking and sounding like a bigot), there's still the ever murky phenomena of election booth conversion. That's the phenomena where many white voters despite public declarations of color-blindness get sudden 20-20 color vision in the privacy of the voting booth when the race is between a black and a white candidate. Voter duplicity did in black Democrats Harvey Gant and Harold Ford in their respective Senate races against well-heeled white GOP opponents. Rove knows that too.
Rove gave Obama seemingly some priceless advice on beating Clinton. But the advice was not given to put Obama in the White House, but to make sure that he and no other Democrat gets there.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics (Middle Passage Press) hutchinsonreport@aol