In Election's Racial Divide, Battered Clintons Side with McCain

| Tue Aug. 5, 2008 3:35 PM EDT

It certainly didn't take long. With weeks to go before either party's political convention, and neither candidate having selected a running mate, the issue of race has already become a theme of the just-begun general election. Sens. Obama and McCain are now accusing one another of using race as a political tool. Obama, apparently unprovoked on the issue, suggested McCain would use Obama's "funny name" and appearance to scare voters. McCain's campaign accused Obama of playing the race card "from the bottom of the deck."

Some Democrats may expect the Clintons, who enjoyed tremendous support from African Americans for many years but have lost some due to insensitive remarks about race during the primary, to step in and defend Obama, but no such luck. The Clintons have remained silent and some suggest that members of Sen. Clinton's presidential campaign, after bearing similar accusations from Obama during the Democratic primary, may be quietly celebrating Obama's difficulty with the issue.

Politico reports anonymous Clinton aides declaring "I feel slightly vindicated" and that "the chickens have come home to roost." One stated, "We were being considered a racist campaign ... so there aren't a lot of people rushing to inoculate [Obama] on that account." In an interview yesterday, a visibly angry Bill Clinton chastised a reporter for asking about race, stating "I am not a racist." Video of the interview—and why Democratic infighting still defines this election—after the jump.

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The irony is that McCain, perhaps having learned from the hateful, race-based attacks President Bush launched against him during the 2000 campaign, has not really brought up race as an issue. (McCain's campaign did issue an ad with Obama's face mockingly projected on Mount Rushmore and the $100 bill, but it appears to be about hubris and not race.) So why go after McCain for a race-based attack he never made? Because not everyone has been as civil as McCain on Obama's race. The Clintons had considerable success using race to rack up big victories in Appalachian states.

The primary battle may be over, but the race-based issues that the Clintons brought up—and the damage they do Obama in certain key states—never went away. Obama has to confront the issue of race. By attacking McCain on the issue, he can address his otherness while also getting in an attack on his opponent. Obama's statements, however, clearly allude to the treatment he got during the primary, reopening wounds from which the Clintons were still recovering. They may not be attacking Obama anymore, but they also aren't defending him, and their absence speaks as loudly as any RNC attack ad ever could.

—Max Fisher

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