Keeping the race issue alive

What does it mean that the two Clinton supporters most heavily criticized for remarks about Obama this week are black?

By Joan Walsh
January 16, 2008 6:10AM (UTC)
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All day Tuesday MSNBC set up tonight's Democratic debate as all about race, despite Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama's promise of a truce on the issue. Can this issue get any more convoluted?

Obama defenders in the media risk sounding a little racially unenlightened themselves, because the two Clinton backers who've made the most incendiary remarks about Obama in the last few days -- BET founder Robert Johnson and New York Rep. Charles Rangel -- are themselves African American. On their shows tonight, both Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann raised the possibility that despite her truce promise, Clinton had an interest in both men keeping the race conflict alive, and that her campaign might even be encouraging the two men's off-message remarks. But that diminishes Johnson and Rangel as mindless Clinton apparatchiks.


I deplore Johnson's reference to Obama's admitted youthful drug use, and I thought Rangel's remarks on NY 1 TV distorted Obama's comments on Martin Luther King Jr.'s role in passing the Civil Rights Act. But anyone who thinks Clinton is telling Johnson and Rangel what to do is condescending to both men, as though they're merely "Driving Miss Hillary," helping her stir up the race issue, scare the white folks, and keep the black folks down. Yuck. Sometimes it's darkest before the dawn; maybe it's craziest before it gets sane? Here's hoping.

I'll weigh in on the debate later.

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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