To this day, the Willie Horton commercial, a bit of political theater conjured up by George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign against Michael Dukakis in 1988, stands as a standout example of exploiting racial fears in the name of political gain.
Many Democrats, it seems safe to say, never thought a Democrat, let alone Hillary Clinton, would use a similar tactic. Yet Geraldine Ferraro, a member of Clinton's finance committee, and the party’s historic 1984 vice-presidential candidate, appears to be taking part in a calculated effort to exploit the undercurrent of racial prejudice in American life.
In an interview with a California newspaper, Ferraro recently made this statement: “ ‘I think what America feels about a woman becoming president takes a very secondary place to Obama’s campaign — to a kind of campaign that it would be hard for anyone to run against,’ she said. ‘For one thing, you have the press, which has been uniquely hard on her. It’s been a very sexist media. Some just don’t like her. The others have gotten caught up in the Obama campaign.’
“ ‘If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position,’ she continued. ‘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.’ Ferraro does not buy the notion of Obama as the great reconciler.”
Clinton repudiated Ferraro’s comments, calling them unfortunate, but she also refused to make Ferraro leave her campaign.
And in a subsequent interview with Fox News, Ferraro basically reiterated her main talking point, playing to white resentment about Obama and such unmentioned issues as affirmative action, while also disingenuously asserting that she is not a surrogate for the Clinton campaign:
“ ‘Any time anybody does anything that in any way pulls this campaign down and says let’s address reality and the problems we’re facing in this world, you’re accused of being racist, so you have to shut up,’ Ferraro said. ‘Racism works in two different directions. I really think they’re attacking me because I’m white. How’s that?’ ”
Obama strategist David Axelrod responded, in a conference call with reporters, by saying, “When you wink and nod at offensive statements, you’re really sending a signal to your supporters that anything goes.”
This is what the Democratic presidential contest has come to. Factcheck.org concluded, in contrast to some Obama supporters, that the Clinton campaign did not darken her rival’s skin color in a campaign commercial. Yet there’s little doubt that a “kitchen sink” strategy, in which Clinton threw anything and everything at Obama, is what helped her to climb back into the Democratic fight.
Considering this, her surrogates can be counted upon to continue their use of a variety of shady tactics.
Whether these efforts enable Clinton to snatch the nomination from Obama remains to be seen. If they do, however, it could be a Pyrrhic victory, since many of Obama’s supporters will have been so alienated that there’s no way they’d vote for Clinton in November.
: This Just In
, Michael Dukakis, David Axelrod, Barack Obama, More