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Friday, February 1, 2008

Choice between candidates equal until ‘race card’ thrown in

This is a column by Register columnist Randall Beach



Pondering their choices Tuesday in the presidential primary, Connecticut’s Democrats face a happy dilemma: Two very strong candidates remain in contention.
New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama have a seemingly equal chance to win the nomination. Polls show they are also neck-and-neck in Connecticut.
I like both of them. I think both would be good presidents, and certainly either of them would be a vast improvement over the current occupant of that office.
I do have a tangential tie to the Clinton camp because my sister-in-law worked on Hillary Clinton’s staff when she was first lady, and reports she was a great boss. I can’t let that sway my decision.
While following the primary campaign over the past few months, I couldn’t decide whether I would go for Clinton or Obama.
But in recent weeks, something happened.
Bill Clinton started playing "the race card" and "the media card."
Campaigning for his wife in South Carolina before that primary, Clinton compared Obama’s efforts to Jesse Jackson’s wins in that state in 1984 and 1988.
He also suggested his wife might lose the South Carolina primary to Obama because of race.
He said, "They are getting votes, to be sure, because of their race or gender. And that’s why people tell me Hillary doesn’t have a chance of winning here." (She did in fact lose, allowing the Clintons and their staff to dismiss it as lots of blacks voting for one of their own.)
Bill Clinton’s performance in South Carolina followed his wife’s comments elsewhere that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s "dream" was realized only when President Lyndon Johnson signed civil rights legislation. The New York Times scolded her for playing racial politics, although the newspaper shortly afterward endorsed her candidacy.
But Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy did not. After phoning Clinton and advising him to cut out the race-baiting because it was divisive for the Democratic Party, Kennedy endorsed Obama.
In his attack dog role, Clinton has also been going after reporters whenever they ask a question he doesn’t like. When a CNN reporter in Charleston, S.C., asked him about the racial dynamics of the campaign in that state, Clinton snapped, "They (the Obama campaign, apparently) know this is what you want to cover. Shame on you!"
No — shame on Clinton for unfairly going after a reporter who was only doing his job.
A few weeks before that, during a TV interview with Charlie Rose, Clinton accused reporters of being "stenographers" for Obama. Clinton got so agitated that his aides tried to halt the interview.
This is not the Bill Clinton I heard speak at Yale shortly after 9/11, when our country was traumatized and scared. On that day, he was statesmanlike and reassuring. He told us we were going to be all right.
A reporter for The New Yorker magazine recently quoted Greg Craig, who in 1971 sublet his apartment on Edgewood Avenue in New Haven to his Yale Law School classmate, Hillary Rodham, and her boyfriend, Bill Clinton ($75 a month). Although he remained friends with them over the years, Craig is now an adviser to the Obama campaign.
Why? He considers Obama "a fresh and exciting voice in American politics that has not been in my life since Robert Kennedy." This is what wins elections.
Meanwhile, we are seeing a reprise of the Clinton divisiveness, which is bad for the Democrats as well as for the country.
I worry that if she were nominated, we would be in for a nasty general election campaign that will further polarize the country. And she might lose in November.
Contrast this us-against-them mentality with what Obama’s wife, Michelle Obama, said Wednesday in Stamford. Speaking of the American people, she remarked, "We are not that far apart."
Randall Beach can be reached at rbeach@nhregister.com, or 789-5766.

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