More about race and the Democrats

John Judis knocks down the "Bradley effect." Plus: Clinton on "Meet the Press."

By Joan Walsh
January 14, 2008 3:06PM (UTC)
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I've written before about learning from John Judis's clear-eyed take on voting trends back when we were both at In These Times. So I was interested to see his take on the New Hampshire election results, particularly the so-called "Bradley effect," the notion that whites lie to pollsters about their willingness to vote for black candidates. Judis disputes those claims, as well as the more nuanced analysis by Pew's Andrew Kohut, who argued that less educated white voters, who might have a problem supporting Barack Obama, simply weren't reached by pollsters. Judis doesn't buy it, because later polls found that such voters actually increased their support of Obama in the closing days of the New Hampshire race; it was college educated women who trended toward Clinton at the end. Judis thinks the most likely culprit for bad poll results was the unexpected turnout by women voters, combined with that last-minute shift toward Clinton by college educated women. "A closer reading of the evidence also has the benefit of not accusing half of New Hampshire Democratic primary voters of being racists," he concludes tartly. The whole piece is worth reading.

But the debate about the role of race will clearly continue in this primary season. NBC's Tim Russert devoted the first block of "Meet the Press" to hammering Hillary Clinton over her Martin Luther King, Jr. remarks last week, as well as former President Clinton's "fairy tale" reference to the Obama campaign. I'll post the transcript below. To me, two things seem true: Clinton's initial comments about King and Lyndon Johnson left her open to this sniping -- and the Obama campaign is taking advantage. But that's what happens in politics. I'll have more to say about this later. Please use the comments section to tell me whether you think Clinton held her own on the topic against Russert.


MR. RUSSERT: When we arrived in South Carolina yesterday this was The State newspaper, and the headlines agree to this. And let me share it with you and our viewers: "Clinton Camp Hits Obama, Attacks `painful' for black voters. Many in state offended by criticism of Obama," and "remarks about" Martin Luther "King." Bob Herbert, in The New York Times, columnist, weighed in this way: "I could also sense how hard the Clinton camp was working to undermine Senator Obama's main theme, that a campaign based on hope and healing could unify rather than further polarize the country. So there was the former president chastising the press for the way it was covering the Obama campaign and saying of Mr. Obama's effort, `The whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen.' And there was Mrs. Clinton telling the country we don't need `false hopes,' and taking cheap shots at, of all people, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We've already seen Clinton surrogates trying to implant the false idea that Mr. Obama might be a Muslim, and perhaps a drug dealer to boot."

What is this all about?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, beats me, because there's not one shred of truth in what you've just read. And I regret that, because obviously a lot of people have been, you know, given information or an impression that is absolutely false.


First, with respect to Dr. King, you know, Tim, I was 14 years old when I heard Dr. King speak in person. He is one of the people that I admire most in the world, and the point that I was responding to from Senator Obama himself in a number of speeches he was making is his comparison of himself to President Kennedy and Dr. King. And there is no doubt that the inspiration offered by all three of them is essential. It is critical to who we are as a nation, what we believe in, the dreams and aspirations that we all have. But I also said that, you know, Dr. King didn't just give speeches. He marched, he organized, he protested, he was gassed, he was beaten, he was jailed. He understood that he had to move the political process and bring in those who were in political power, and he campaigned for political leaders, including Lyndon Johnson, because he wanted somebody in the White House who would act on what he had devoted his life to achieving.

So I think it's important to set the record straight. Clearly, we know from media reports that the Obama campaign is deliberately distorting this. And, you know, I think we should just take a step out here for a minute. This is the most exciting election we've had in such a long time because you have an African American, an extraordinary man, a person of tremendous talents and abilities, running to become our president. You have a woman running to break the highest and hardest glass ceiling. I don't think either of us want to inject race or gender in this campaign. We are running as individuals, we are making our cases to the American people, and it's imperative that we get the record and the facts straight because people are entitled to have that information. But I have no intention of either, you know, doing something that would move this race in a wrong way, or, frankly, sit standing by when I think tactics are being employed that are not in the best interests of our country.

And let me address the point that Bill was making. Because, again, I think it's been unfairly and inaccurately characterized. What he was talking about was very directly about the story of Senator Obama's campaign, being premised on a speech he gave in 2002. And that was to his credit. He gave a speech opposing the war in Iraq. He gave a very impassioned speech against it and consistently said that he was against the war, he would vote against the funding for the war. By 2003, that speech was off his Web site. By 2004, he was saying that he didn't really disagree with the way George Bush was conducting the war. And by 2005, '6 and '7, he was voting for $300 billion in funding for the war. The story of his campaign is really the story of that speech and his opposition to Iraq. I think it is fair to ask questions about, "Well, what did you do after the speech was over?" And when he became a senator, he didn't go to the floor of the Senate to condemn the war in Iraq for 18 months. He didn't introduce legislation against the war in Iraq. He voted against timelines and deadlines initially.


So I think it's important that we get the contrasts and the comparisons out. I think that's fair game. You know, I think that we don't want anyone, any of our supporters, anyone--and that's why in my campaign, any time anybody has said anything that I thought was out of bounds, they're gone, you know? I have gotten rid of them, I have said that is not appropriate in this campaign. You know, when Senator Obama's chief strategist accuses me of playing a role in Benazir Bhutto's assassination, there's silence. So let's have one standard. This is an exciting and historic campaign. One of us is going to make history, which is thrilling to me. I've worked all my life on behalf of civil rights and women's rights and human rights, and so I want a good, vigorous campaign about the differences between us and our various qualifications and experiences to be the president that America needs.

MR. RUSSERT: It just isn't at Senator Obama who is taking offense. This is exactly what President Clinton said in Dartmouth. Here's the tape.


(Videotape, Hanover, New Hampshire, Monday):

PRES. BILL CLINTON: Give me a break. This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: Congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina, who's neutral...



MR. RUSSERT: ...said this, "To call that dream a fairy tale, which Bill Clinton seemed to be doing, could very well be insulting to some of us."

SEN. CLINTON: Tim, let me--let me just stop you right there.

MR. RUSSERT: But, no...

SEN. CLINTON: No, wait a minute.


MR. RUSSERT: No, I didn't stop you. Let me just go through...

SEN. CLINTON: No, but you did not give the entire quote and so...

MR. RUSSERT: No, but you...

SEN. CLINTON: The entire quote was clearly about the position on Iraq.

MR. RUSSERT: But I'm...


SEN. CLINTON: It was not about the entire candidacy. It was not about the extraordinary, you know, abilities.

MR. RUSSERT: But Congressman -- but Congressman Clyburn has been covering this race. Donna Brazile, herself a longtime activist in the Democratic Party, this is what she said. Here's Donna Brazile.

(Videotape, Tuesday):

MS. DONNA BRAZILE: As an African American, I find his words and his tone to be very depressing.


(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: So these are people who are not supporters of Obama, who are listening. Let me just go to the Martin Luther King thing because you had your opportunity to talk about this at the beginning of the show and I want to lay this out for our viewers. This is how The New York Times categorized it. "In an interview with Fox News on Monday, Mrs. Clinton ... tried to make a point about presidential leadership. `Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of '64.' Mrs. Clinton said in trying to make the case that her experience should mean to voters than the uplifting words of Mr. Obama. `It took a president to get it done.'" Again, Congressman Clyburn, "We have to be very, very careful about how we speak about that era in American politics. ... That bothered me a great deal."

A writer in the Washington Post today, a black woman said it's as if you are minimizing "I Have a Dream." That you're saying it's a nice sentiment, but it took a white president to get blacks to the mountaintop.

SEN. CLINTON: Well, you know, I...


MR. RUSSERT: That's her take.

SEN. CLINTON: I understand the taking out of context and the mischaracterization. I've spoken with Congressman Clyburn. I have spoken with a number of my very strong and adamant supporters, but Tim, I can't let you get away with that mischaracterization and those snippets. I was responding to a speech that Senator Obama gave in New Hampshire where he did compare himself to President Kennedy and to Dr. King. You know, President Kennedy served in the Congress for 14 years, he was a war hero. He'd been engaged in many of the battles that led to his election in the 1960 election. Dr. King had been on the front lines. He had been leading a movement. But Dr. King understood, which is why he made it very clear, that there has to be a coming to terms of our country politically in order to make the changes that would last for generations beyond the iconic, extraordinary speeches that he gave. That's why he campaigned for Lyndon Johnson in 1964. That's why he was there when those great pieces of legislation were passed. Does he deserve the lion's share of the credit for moving our country and moving our political process? Yes, he does. But he also had partners who were in the political system.

And I think it is such an unfair and unwarranted attempt to, you know, misinterpret and mischaracterize what I've said. Look at what I've done my entire life. I have been working on behalf of civil rights, women's rights, human rights for years and I know how challenging it is to change our political system and I have the highest regard for those who have put themselves on the line. You know, Congressman Clyburn was part of that movement. So many of the people whom I admire in my country who have given of themselves to make these changes went into politics in order to realize the changes, worked to elect people in order to make the changes.

You know, this is, you know, an unfortunate story line that the Obama campaign has pushed very successfully. They've been putting out talking points, they've been making this, they've been telling people in a very selective way what the facts are. And I'm glad to have the opportunity to set the facts straight.

Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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