Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Billary's burnt black bridges

Dawn Turner Trice
Clintons lose luster with black voters

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll taken this month found that former President Bill Clinton, the so-called first black president, is falling out of favor with African-Americans.

More of the poll's respondents view him negatively (45 percent) than positively (42 percent). Compare this with his ratings just last year—a positive of 48 percent compared with a negative of 35 percent—and it's a pretty big deal.

Beyond scientific polls, anecdotal evidence reveals that his wife also is losing support from the Democratic Party's most reliable constituency.

A lot of black people are furious at Sen. Hillary Clinton in part because of the actions or infractions of her surrogates. They're angry at Bill for the dust-up he created after the South Carolina contest comparing Sen. Barack Obama's win there to that of Rev. Jesse Jackson's when he ran for president. They're angry at Geraldine Ferraro for suggesting Obama is mostly an affirmative action candidate.

They blame the Clinton camp for circulating the picture of Obama in Somali garb, an attempt to incite anti-Muslim fears. Some even blame the Clintons for initiating the controversy over the inflammatory sermons made by Obama's former pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Nevermind whether these last two examples are true.

What's striking for me is the number of black voters who tell me they could never bring themselves to vote for Hillary Clinton, even if by some miracle, she became the Democratic presidential nominee.

Some have said they would sit out the general election, and risk a win by Republican Sen. John McCain. And these are people for whom not voting is anathema.

Indeed Clinton has her share of detractors. But, until recently, not too many blacks were counted among them. In fact, until South Carolina, a lot of black people felt heartsick about having to choose between Clinton and Obama.

Now folks' hearts are hardened and the resentment is visceral. Blacks didn't expect the Clintons to play the race card. You could argue that the Clinton strategy is just politics. It's not personal. It's not really racial. But this year voters of all stripes are rejecting the same old, same old.

Black people in particular (and others too) are rejecting this brand of politics that plays on voters' worst fears. If Republicans use race-baiting (think: footage of Mexicans scaling border fences) to stir the base, who is shocked by it? But it is shocking coming from someone who always has been considered an ally.

For years, blacks appreciated Hillary Clinton's work at Yale, tutoring black law students; her work at the Children's Defense Fund; her efforts on behalf of public education and health care. The list goes on and, frankly, her civil rights roots may run deeper than Obama's.

But in just a few months, the Clintons may have squandered a lot of goodwill capital. Black voters expected a spirited debate between the Clinton and Obama camps. But on the issues.

In New Hampshire, when Bill Clinton called Obama's Iraq war position a "fairy tale," that was in bounds. The Jesse Jackson comparison—out of bounds. Not because it wasn't true, but because Clinton was slyly playing the race card.

Of all Obama's moves, the most brilliant has been making unity and hope fundamental campaign themes. You look pretty mean-spirited slinging mud on a guy who is reluctant to get down and dirty. You also look profoundly clueless next to one who can deliver an eloquently nuanced speech on transcending racism.

At any other moment in history, Clinton would be the IT candidate for many black Democrats. But life is complicated. Race is complicated. So are feelings of betrayal.

If the Clinton strategy has been "win at any cost," it appears to have cost a lot.

Original article posted here.

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