January 26, 2008

The Beginning of the Defeat of Obama

I am throughly discouraged today as the voters of South Carolina head to the polls for their primary, even as the RCP average shows Obama ahead in SC 38% to 27% over Clinton, a spread that has narrowed in recent days. I believe he will win today, but his declining support among white voters and the possibility of the Clintons peeling off or even splitting the black vote could mean a margin of victory too narrow to maintain his competitiveness going into Super Tuesday.

The Clinton campaign has succeeded in two things. 1. making Obama a "black" candidate in the minds of white voters and 2. diminishing Obama's stature, bringing him down, in the eyes of voters, to the level of typical politicians, to frankly, their level. How did they do this? With a one two punch of smear tactics and the tactically effective, soullessly cynical taking advantage of the kneejerk racial reactionary tendencies of black folks.

For smear, they used his association with a long time supporter Anthony Rezko, a Chicago slumlord. Hillary played that card during the last debate and Obama was prepared with only a weak return line on the subject. She drew him onto her ground, the close combat of the politics of personal destruction, a black art of which she is a dark aficionado, and was able to sully him in the minds of voters.

For the other, the Clintons turned the overreaction of Obama supporters to some of Hillary's comments, particularly the LBJ/MLK comment into a veiled and sometimes overt accusation of racism. The Clintons drew this debate out into an acrimonious spat that began to define Obama and the race in racial terms, a tactic that began eroding his support among white voters in a process that I believe will continue.

One can argue that if Obama was so easily knocked off message by the Clintons smear tactics in the nomination fight, that he was not prepared for what was to come in the general. Perhaps there is truth in that. We may never know. What we do know is that the Clintons, in order to win, were perfectly willing to smear the most promising African American candidate to ever run for the Oval office. Furthermore, they were willing to play on the sensitivity of white americans to race and the reactionary nature of blacks on the topic to allow Obama to be branded as a "black candidate". Smear and the cynical manipulation of race. The Clinton weapons of war.