Clumsy, but not racist negative campaigning
--David Gergen, 360 Contributor
Some viewers and readers have inquired about last night's small dust-up on AC 360 about the Hillary Clinton campaign. Anderson asked our panel about various ways that the Clinton campaign has gone negative toward Barack Obama, what's the strategy, what it is accomplishing, and the like.
I expressed the view that the Clinton campaign is justified in some of its complaints about this issue, that indeed, Barack did fire first and that he has had more flattering press coverage than she has.
But, I added, I questioned the way the Clintonites were counter-attacking. It has seemed clumsy at times, its sudden acceleration contradicts her recent "likeability" emphasis, and it may well backfire because it reminds voters of old-style politics, -the very thing that Barack has been campaigning against.
Jennifer Donahue of New Hampshire, another panelist, went farther, she asserted that the Clinton campaign was playing "the race card" agasinst Obama. She and I then got into an exchange about her opinion and I argued that it is unfair to make that charge.
I would invite viewers and readers to offer their judgments. My own is that saying someone is playing "the race card" is a serious accusation. To play the race card, as I see it, is to intentionally exploit the race of another person, usually a minority, by appealing to racial prejudices.
Growing up in the South, I often saw segregationist Democrats play the race card against moderate or liberal Democrats who were working for greater racial equality.
We saw some Republicans in South Carolina play the race card against John McCain in the 2000 primary when they spread outrageous rumors that he had fathered a black child.
To paraphrase the Supreme Court, we may not be able to define racism easily but we know it when we see it.
By sharp contrast, I do not believe the Clinton campaign or its surrogates, based on the record so far, has been playing the race card by raising questions about Obama's past (and acknowledged) experiments with drugs as a young man.
To raise the drug question does not automatically bring his race into the conversation. After all, we had huge questions in the 1992 campaign about Bill Clinton and drugs and in the 2000 campaign about George W. Bush and drugs.
A white professor who might have been on the Supreme Court had to withdraw over his past drug use. Past drug use, whether the candidate is black or white, often plays out in American campaigns.
Bottom line: it is certainly fair to criticize the Clinton campaign on all sorts of things but, in my view, it is unfair and unseemly to accuse it of playing the race card. Again, I would welcome your view.