The Campaign Spot

Obama as Jesse: Clinton Pursues a Bridge Too Far?

When it comes to the Morris/Graham theory — or perhaps we should now call it the Morris/Graham/Clinton theory – that the Clintons would turn Obama’s South Carolina victory into a loss by emphasizing that he is now the black candidate, there are two issues for skepticism. The first is the thought that the Clintons will try it; the second is whether it will work.

Skepticism on the first point appears misplaced, as we’re now seeing comments like this:

Her husband was campaigning in Missouri, another Feb. 5 state, and said there that Obama had won “fair and square.” But before leaving South Carolina, he compared Obama’s victory to those of Jesse Jackson in the same state in 1984 and 1988. “Jackson ran a good campaign and Obama ran a good campaign here,” he said.

On the second point, whether it will work… there’s still reason for skepticism. Would Jesse Jackson give a speech that included lines like the following?

The choice in this election is not between regions or religions or genders. It’s not about rich versus poor, young versus old. And it is not about black versus white.
This election is about the past versus the future. It’s about whether we settle for the same divisions and distractions and drama that passes for politics today or whether we reach for a politics of common sense and innovation, a politics of shared sacrifice and shared prosperity.
There are those who will continue to tell us that we can’t do this, that we can’t have what we’re looking for, that we can’t have what we want, that we’re peddling false hopes.

At some point, the Clinton strategy becomes a matter of, “Who are you going to believe, me, or your lying eyes?” Barack Obama, for all of his flaws, is not Jesse Jackson, and trying to convince a Democratic audience that they’re the same may not fly among a Democratic electorate that prides itself on its progressive thinking about racial differences. The argument is about one step away from, “they all look alike.”

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