SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- In claiming victory in West Virginia last night, Hillary Clinton reiterated her last best argument as to why she should be the Democratic nominee: because only she can win in November.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.: Hillary Clinton sounds less like George Washington and more like George Wallace.
Don't confuse that with what Clinton said in a debate just a few weeks ago about how she was confident that either she or her opponent could win in November.
How's that for chutzpah? She's arguing that the same person who couldn't win enough states in the spring against Barack Obama can win enough states in the fall against John McCain.
At least in West Virginia, Clinton chose her words more carefully than she did last week when she blurted out to USA Today that "Sen. Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again" and how whites who had not completed college were supporting her.
Clinton sounded less like George Washington and more like George Wallace. Imagine a presidential primary where, after more than 16 months, almost two dozen debates, hundreds of speeches, millions of dollars, and countless chicken dinners, the rationale for electing someone boils down to this: Vote for me. I'm white. I can win because other whites will vote for me.
Why, this could be the new affirmative action. Whatever happened to merit?
Clinton's message in West Virginia was smoother. "I'm winning Catholic voters and Hispanic voters," she told supporters, "and blue-collar workers and seniors, the kind of people that Sen. McCain will be fighting for in the general election."
Meanwhile, some white Americans are turning themselves inside out to come up with excuses for why they're not supporting Obama. It seems like just yesterday that these folks were arguing there is no racism in the immigration debate, and now they're insisting there is no racism in the presidential election.
Some want to know why it isn't racist when 70 percent of African-Americans vote for Obama but it is when 70 percent of whites vote against him.
The answer has to do with history. Over the decades, black Americans have had plenty of opportunities to vote for white people for president. And they have done so. But this is the first time that white Americans have a chance to vote for an African-American with a shot at the presidency. And what are they doing?
Many are responding quite well. Obama won the votes of many, to borrow a phrase, "hardworking white Americans," in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska and Wyoming. But, elsewhere, as Obama said in a recent interview, people may need to get their head around the concept of an African-American even seeking the presidency, let alone winning it.
That's understandable. There are places in this country where white Americans are still raised to think of black Americans as inferior. And then comes someone like Obama who has performed off the charts -- from Harvard Law School to the U.S. Senate and now, possibly, on to the White House. It's going to take some time to get used to all that, especially for people who never thought they'd see the day that an African-American would be elected president.
But understand this: They had better hurry up. That day may soon be here.
Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a member of the editorial board of the San Diego Union-Tribune and a nationally syndicated columnist. Read his column here.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.
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