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From the AP (via TPM):

"They are getting votes, to be sure, because of their race or gender. That's why people tell me Hillary doesn't have a chance of winning here," the former president said at one stop as he campaigned for his wife, strongly suggesting that blacks would not support a white alternative to Obama.Clinton campaign strategists denied any intentional effort to stir the racial debate. But they said they believe the fallout has had the effect of branding Obama as "the black candidate," a tag that could hurt him outside the South.

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Clinton strategists can believe what they want. I dare say they have a vested interest in believing that their strategies are successful.The comparison with Jesse Jackson (I'm moving this from below to here, slap it back if you want), is so thoroughly off base as to be mind-blowing. The two candidates ONLY have their skin color in common and to try and compare them comes periously close to thinking that the ONLY thing that matters about Obama is his skin color. Cutty Sark and Lagavulin can both be found in scotch aisle.

That is, in the scotch aisle.

Also, Joe, it's interesting to note that Bill Clinton's response was an answer to a question that wasn't asked. He was asked whether it was fair of the two Clintons to gang up on Obama.

Now Grant, I'm sure our former president was simply stating a fact that happened to pop into his head at that particular moment; stream of consciousness and all, almost Joyce like. You seem to be suggesting that his words were strategic in nature, deliberately designed to associate Obama with extreme black activism (and politically hopeless black activism), and so alienating Obama from the average white voter by subtly appealing to their most bigoted fears. Yet, we have very sincere assurances from the Clinton camp that nothing could be further from the truth, so I guess one who takes people at their word, rather than one who assumes the people they vote for are lying, should not follow your line of reasoning.It's the pathetic vs. the prophetic.

No question Obama has more than Jackson. However, the clear fact is that the blacks in Carolina voted for him because he is black. That's the point. The only reason Hillary got 17% of the black vote was because of the great bond the Clintons have had with black voters. Blood is thicker than water, as the saying goes.

. . . . designed to associate Obama with extreme black activism (and politically hopeless black activism)

I wouldn't say Jesse Jackson represents "extreme" black activism.

Oh for Pete's sake...Look, if we want to start playing this game, why don't we start asking whether Senator Clinton's disproportionate dependence on women will hurt her in the general election. The chart below shows the relative share of the male vote for Senators Clinton and Obama, followed by the percent of the voters in the primary who are women. Clinton Obama Female Share of Democratic Primary VotersIA 29% 35% 57%NH 29% 40% 57%NV 43% 45% 59%SC 23% 54% 61%If it wasn't for the strong turnout among women, Senator Clinton would have been out of this thing a long time ago. Her presence has increased the female share of the Dem primary voters by about three percentage points in each of the primaries so far.But the national gender breakdown in the 2006 election was 51% female/49% male. I suspect the prospect of a woman president could tip that a bit. There is no question, however, that Senator Clinton will have to increase her draw among male voters.Now is this the worst sort of Sunday talk show pseudo-analysis? No question. But if we're going to spin Senator Obama as the "black" candidate, we might as well take a look at how Senator Clinton is the "woman" candidate. If this is the direction the Clinton people want to go, fine, but I don't think it's going to help them.

David, have you ever lived in Chicago?

Grant,No, I have never lived in Chicago, although I have visited and been very impressed.Whether or not that would give me a different perspective on Jesse Jackson, I don't know. But I don't see how that's relevant, since I don't think Bill Clinton was aiming his remarks at Chicagoans. As black activists go, as a non-Chicagoan, I would not call Jesse Jackson, or even Al Sharpton, "extreme." I would not even begin to compare Obama to Jackson or Sharpton, but I don't think Jesse Jackson is "extreme."

David, remember when he referred to New York as "hymietown"? I wonder if we'll see another round of paranoid e-mails about Obama's secret anti-Jewish impulses.

Grant,I am old enough to remember the "hymietown" remark, but that was 25 years ago. It was said in private, and Jackson apologized for it. Are you seriously trying to make the case that Clinton's subliminal message was that Jackson is an "extremist" and that Obama is like Jackson--an extremist and maybe an anti-Semite? Are you forgetting that Jesse Jackson and Bill Clinton were personal friends? And are you ignoring the fact that Jesse Jackson has endorsed Obama, and that Jesse Jackson, Jr., is one of the Obama campaign's national co-chairmen? If there is an intention to smear Obama by associating him with the Jackson's, it can be done much more directly than saying they both won primaries in the same state.Now, if you want to argue that Bill was making a calculated effort to portray Obama as "the black candidate" who could win in South Carolina where there were a lot of black voters but was on shakier ground elsewhere, that's more plausible. I'm not sure it is reprehensible, though. It seems pretty clear that Obama is getting some votes because he is black, just as Hillary is getting some votes because she is a woman. (Which is what Bill said.) And if reminding people that Obama is black is going to hamper his chances of winning the Democratic nomination to any significant degree, what is it going to do to his chances of winning in the general election? No matter who is the Republican nomineee, don't you think the Republican campaign against Obama is going to find a way to use race as an issue (all the while denying that they aren't)?

David,I believe Jackson delivered the remark to a reporter, mistakenly believing it would remain off the record. Of course he apologized for when it became public. Lots of people haven't forgiven him for it. Likewise, lots of people--rightly or wrongly--associate Jackson with racial politics. I can't know what Clinton intended. (For the record I think it could be a lot of things, including the more plausible possibility you described--although I can't get on board the GOP Is Just As Bad excuse-making train. Sorry.) All I know, all you know, is that Clinton was asked about Obama being "double-teamed" and winning in SC, and the former president decided to take the opportunity to compare Obama's win and campaign to Jesse Jackson's. What do you think that was about, David? Seriously.

Wow. These remarks are all excellent evidence as to why Democrats could easly lose the race (for president, that is).

Just to weigh in on the "extreme" thing, since I started it. I, too, do not think Jackson is extreme, and I still think Clinton can be friends with Jackson and say what he did. If the strategic interpretation of his remarks is correct, Clinton need only be interested in what a significant portion of the American electorate (especially that portion voting on Feb. 5) think of Jesse Jackson. If it is believed by certain strategists that this portion of the electorate views Jackson to be extreme, then that will suffice.

David Gibson: You wrote

Wow. These remarks are all excellent evidence as to why Democrats could easly lose the race (for president, that is).

I would value knowing a little more about what you are thinking here. From my perspective, at least, I have been trying to express disgust at what I take to be some real low road strategic moves by the Clintons. I would not be expressing such disgust if Clinton and Obama (and even Clinton/Clinton and Obama) were arguing about things like like policies and electability. Do you find such expressions of disgust to be inappropriate?

I agree with David N's read of the Clinton comment. But I guess I do see it as reprehensible.

Grant, First I would refer you to the article posted by Margaret Steinfels, particularly this passage:

But while pundits debated the degree to which those comments were strategic and whether they helped or hurt Mrs. Clinton, those thrusts and parries made up only a fraction of his public appearances here, and voters were not that interested in them.Instead, they sat in rapt attention at Mr. Clintons town-hall-style events, which were essentially mini lectures on public affairs. Mr. Clinton would open by discussing various issues for half an hour. Occasionally he would say, Hillary thinks this, but their views are so similar, and he spoke for her so confidently, that he rarely bothered to say where he left off and she began.

How much coverage have we received of what Bill Clinton said about public affairs in those town-hall-style events? I think for one thing, reporters sift through hours and hours of what Bill Clinton says trying to find something sensational to report. Sound bites. As a consequence, we hear nothing of substance, but if there's a remark that can be interpreted (correctly or incorrectly) to cause a furor, that's what we hear. To read the press coverage, it's as if Bill Clinton is out there 24/7 ranting about Obama and making racially insensitive remarks. It is a false impression. (This also may explain some of my criticisms of Obama not being substantive. The press clearly loves him, but all they are interested in is his oratory and charisma. I watch a fair amount of political coverage and read a fair amount of news analysis, and I have seen very little in the press actually comparing and contrasting the candidates on their positions. And of course Edwards, whom I believe has many important things to say, it totally marginalized.)Here's what Bill Clinton said:

Jesse Jackson won South Carolina twice, in 84 and 88. And he ran a good campaign. Senator Obama has run a good campaign here, he has run a good campaign everywhere.

Now, the pundits I saw on the Sunday morning television shows today, who were not very friendly toward the Clintons and many of whom clearly are quite taken with Obama (including George Will, of all people), agreed that there are not very many states with the same demographics as South Carolina. Was that race baiting? It seems to me perfectly relevant in assessing Obama's victory in South Carolina to point out that a black man has won twice there before. It's not as if that's a lie. Does that diminish the significance of Obama's victory? I don't think it's unreasonable to maintain that. If Edwards had won, would it have been underhanded to point out that it's his home state in order to minimize the significance of his victory? It is an undeniable fact that Obama got 81 percent of the black vote in a state with a large black population.I think at least part of what is happening is that Obama is so impressive--I see it too--that his supporters are deeply emotional about everything that is said about him that is not praise, and see "race baiting" when people are simply making observations of fact, or, at worst, doing the kind of spinning that is routinely done in important races. So I would say the press coverage has been very poor (but typical of press coverage of major elections), and I would also say that hard-fought elections are rarely all cordiality and high-minded rational debate. But nothing Bill Clinton said was untrue or out of the ordinary. However, if you want an example of an outright lie that nobody is complaining about, how about McCain saying Hillary Clinton wants to "wave the white flag" or "surrender" in Iraq. It's just a preposterous lie, but McCain also is a darling of the press, and nobody is accusing him of being untruthful.

I will be the first to grant the possibility that I am too sensistive on the race issue, but something has yet to be explained that would lead me to believe that Obama is the "black candidate" only means that he will have much shakier support outside of places like South Carolina; namely, Obama won Iowa, thus, his ability to have support outside of states with high black populations has been clearly demonstrated. Given the demonstrably false character of the claim, I am inclined to see something more insidious going on.Now, back to my hypersensitivity on matters of race. Let's follow two possible implications of what B. Clinton said. First, by voting for someone who deserves a vote only because of his skin color, one seems to be suggesting that black folk are rather simple-minded when it comes to politics and (thank goodness) we have predominantly white states to sort out the really important issues when it comes to the candidates. Second, a landslide victory among black voters means nothing beyond South Carolina. But why shouldn't a landslide victory among black voters also signal to white voters who are receptive to considerations of racial justice that it is time to pay attention to this black candidate? Year after year, the black community gets taken for granted by the Democratic party. Why isn't the history of black support for Democrats, combined with a history of political neglect of blacks by Democrats, sufficient grounds for allowing black voters to say to Democrats, "Alright, give us a good reason NOT to vote for Obama, otherwise, follow our lead and vote for him"?Sorry, I will admit that racial analysis is dicey stuff, but I am inclined to think it remains important.

David Nickol: I will grant the bad coverage, but with one question of clarification: to your knowledge, how much these mini-lectures delivered by Bill Clinton actually draw clear differences between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama? If they do not draw such distinctions, then it will be hard for the press to report on them within the context of a campaign between these two candidates.On Edwards, I think his decision to make his campaign the Voice for the Voiceless is fantastic, and I am glad that he is going to carry this all the way to the convention. Again, however, the problem is the extent to which Edwards can clearly show that but for his campaign, the voiceless would be ignored by both Clinton and Obama. I am not sure that is true, and I certainly have not seen Edwards make the case.

David: Like most people who read this blog, I am well aware of how the press tends to operate in campaign seasons. So are the Clintons. No one here needs to be reminded that what gets reported tends to be headline-grabbing and can't provide a full account of what's happening on the ground. That much is obvious. (Although CNN and MSNBC carried much of Clinton's Mississippi speech last night.) What troubles me about Clinton's answer to the question he was asked--which was definitely bait--is that it fits a pattern of referring to Obama's race in attempting to explain him or his campaign or its appeal. Never mind his having won more than double the white votes predicted by the polls--and double what Jackson pulled when the nominees were already set in '84 and '88. I have not said race should be off the table. How could it be? Nor have I said that elections must or can be 100 percent high-minded or cordial. (It would be better if you argued against what's been articulated here rather than a straw man.) It's certainly possible that Clinton believes Jackson is the best analogue. But he was asked what it says about Obama that it takes two people to beat him. Barely flinching, Clinton mentioned Jackson. I suspect it was an attempt to associate Obama with a marginal political figure.

Joe,In answer to your question, I don't know what was in Bill's mini-lectures, but wouldn't it be interesting to know, even if it didn't draw a distinction between Obama and Hillary Clinton? The ideas matter just as much if Obama and Hillary Clinton agree on them or disagree on them. And if there's no essential difference between Obama and Hillary Clinton's ideas, I think everybody ought to know that, too.One clarification before someone gloats that a Democrat (me) is finally admitting that the press is biased. In spite of the fact that we know most reporters are Democrats, I think it is much more the case (and you hear reporters say this all the time themselves) that what the press wants is a good story. It is not a good story that Bill Clinton is giving town-hall-style mini-lectures on public affairs to rapt audiences, and we don't hear what he's saying because you can't fit it into a two-minute news report. It makes for a sensational story if Bill or Hillary Clinton make remarks that can be interpreted as racially insensitive or racially charged, and then it echoes across the blogosphere. I think Ronald Reagan made a good story, which is why someone could write a book called On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency about how a largely liberal group of reporters treated Ronald Reagan. I think the press was personally charmed by George W. Bush during the first campaign and didn't care much for Al Gore, distorting the coverage in Bush's favor. And we've recently had a network reporter acknowledge it's hard to be objective covering Obama.

Grant,The question of why it takes two to beat Obama is a foolish one, and I don't blame Clinton for not answering it. No candidate campaigns as a single individual without any representatives, surrogates, and so on. And there has been many an election in which a sitting president campaigns for a candidate, and nobody says, "How come you need the president to campaign for you in order to get elected?" It seems to me the way you and I interpret Bill Clinton's remarks says more about us than about what the remarks themselves really meant. I think it's quite possible they should be taken at face value. I think it is also possible they were intended to minimize the importance of Obama's victory. I don't think that would be reprehensible on Bill Clinton's part. It is part of the game to lower expectations when you think you are going to lose, minimize the victories of the other candidates, and paint your own losses as victories. I see no more insidious intentions about analyzing the black vote in the case of Obama than I do in analyzing the Evangelical Christian vote in the case of Huckabee. People have been saying how dirty and nasty this race is. I don't see it. Dirty and nasty is what was done to McCain in South Carolina in 2000. Bill Clinton didn't say anything that wasn't a simple fact. I think way too much is being read into his remarks. He said somewhere that he doesn't need to defend his civil rights record, and I agree. But my primary concern, like that of a lot of other Democrats, is to have the Democrat nominated who has the best chance of beating the Republican in November. Come February 5, if I decide that person is Obama, I will certainly vote for him.

David,Yes, I agree that it was a dumb question, which is why I concurred with Bill Clinton's description of it as bait. But you're mistaken in comparing the manner in which Bill Clinton has campaigned against Obama (not merely for Hillary) with previous ex-presidents' efforts. He has attacked Obama very strongly (and not always honestly). That is why several Democratic Party leaders have publicly and privately asked Bill Clinton to give it a rest--including Ted Kennedy, who will endorse Obama tomorrow.

Joe, my thinking in the above comment (which will be my last on this issue, as the topic has become so poisonous) was really a reaction to the vituperation and exaggeration that has spun from discussions of Obama and Clinton. Labeling those who defend--or merely offer an opinion other than condemnation on Hillary Clinton--a racist or race-baiter is appalling, to my mind. And labelling those who defend or advocate for Obama a misogynist is equally so (even if racism is a worse thing than sexism). (I ma especially defensive, of course as I am a white male and despite my best efforts at re-education, I undoubtedly retain shades--and guilt--over racism and sexism.) These threads seem (to me) no better than the worst of right-wing talk radio. I have to say, as I have said before, that I think David Nickol was on the mark about the LBJ/MLK issue and now the Jesse Jackson issue. I think the Clintons have behaved abysmally, and I believe will wind up losing because of their tactics. And their behavior has gone a long way toward making me an Obama supporter, happily so. But here I am a white male who has come to put great hope in Obama being lumped in with "race-baiters" because I interpret something differently. I actually think discussions like these are developing in ways that even Bill Clinton at his worst could do--and that Barack Obama would not want to do. Yet here we are hurling mud, Ugly stuff, and depressing. I'll avoid these threads and prepare for class with a big glass of wine.

I suspect that, once the candidates are selected by both parties, each will behave as they have in the past. The Republicans will be in lockstep like storm troopers, and the Democrats will continue to behave like greased pigs in a county fair. Democrats, when they win, tend to do so in spite of themselves.I wouldn't be a Republican for all of the crab in Fisherman's Wharf.

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About the Author

Eduardo Moisés Peñalver is the John P. Wilson Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School. He is the author of numerous books and articles on the subjects of property and land use law.