The Ferraro Factor
Thu March 13, 2008 9:05 am

I don't shock easily, but I am appalled by the Clinton campaign's resort to racial politics. It started in South Carolina when the former president of the United States dismissed Obama's primary victory there and compared it to Jesse Jackson's. The Clinton strategy appears to be to take a leaf from Karl Rove's book and polarize politics -- in this case, along racial, rather than ideological, lines. Geraldine Ferraro's remarks -- “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman of any color, he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept” -- were an effort to marginalize Barack Obama as a black candidate. (Rove said last night on O'Reilly that Obama should have maintained the high ground, saying that this was the kind of politics we're trying to get away from, rather than counterattacking; Obama had responded to Ferraro's remarks by saying, "I think that her comments were ridiculous. I think they were wrong-headed.")

We don't know whether Ferraro's comments made to Torrance, California, newspaper several days before the Mississippi primary were part of a deliberate strategy by the Clinton campaign. It seems unlikely, considering the obscurity of the media outlet. But the effort to resort to racial-identity politics is clearly part of the Clinton game plan, and Mississippi, with its long history of polarized race relations and a percentage of the black population that is second only to Washington, D.C.'s, was the perfect place to put it into play. The Clinton campaign has gotten the word out that she is the candidate of white America. I think that is going to play well in several the remaining primary states -- starting with Pennsylvania, which James Carville has famously described as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in between, as well as North Carolina, Indiana, and Kentucky.

That this is potentially ruinous for the Democratic party does not seem to be a deterrent. With every day that passes, the likelihood increases that there will be a bitter and racially tinged floor fight for the nomination. The similarities to the 1968 convention, in which the Democratic party coalition that came into existence with the New Deal fell apart, are striking. An unpopular war. A presidential candidate who had made his reputation as a liberal but was seen as representing the conservative old guard. Disillusioned youth demanding change. A convention dominated by rules fights. And the Democratic party was never the same again. By 1972, the left controlled the party, the South was lost, and five of the next seven presidents would be Republicans. Welcome to the unknown.

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