The Art of Swift-Baiting
Professor of History Sean Wilentz - someone I have admired since his pushback against the Clinton impeachment by the GOP - has a long, must-read article in The New Republic titled "Race Man - How Barack Obama played the race card and blamed Hillary Clinton". It covers a lot of ground on several instances where false charges of race-baiting were hurled against the Clinton campaign by Sen. Obama's campaign, surrogates and supporters (This should not be new to my readers since I've discussed this before - I have been meaning to write a long piece on this myself, but now I don't have to do that). Wilentz missed a couple of additional egregious instances where the Obama camp falsely charged the Clintons with race baiting, but let me reproduce a couple of snippets and leave you to read the article in full.
Misleading propaganda is hardly new in American politics --although the adoption of techniques reminiscent of past Republican and special-interest hit jobs, right down to a retread of the fictional couple, seems strangely at odds with a campaign that proclaims it will redeem the country from precisely these sorts of divisive and manipulative tactics. As insidious as these tactics are, though, the Obama campaign's most effective gambits have been far more egregious and dangerous than the hypocritical deployment of deceptive and disingenuous attack ads. To a large degree, the campaign's strategists turned the primary and caucus race to their advantage when they deliberately, falsely, and successfully portrayed Clinton and her campaign as unscrupulous race-baiters--a campaign-within-the-campaign in which the worked-up flap over the Somali costume photograph is but the latest episode. While promoting Obama as a "post-racial" figure, his campaign has purposefully polluted the contest with a new strain of what historically has been the most toxic poison in American politics.
It may strike some as ironic that the racializing should be coming from a black candidate's campaign and its supporters. But this is an American presidential campaign--and there is a long history of candidates who are willing to inflame the most deadly passions in our national life in order to get elected. Sadly, it is what Barack Obama and his campaign gurus have been doing for months--with the aid of their media helpers on the news and op-ed pages and on cable television, mocked by "SNL" as in the tank for Obama. They promise to continue until they win the nomination, by any means necessary.
Wilentz also briefly made his case on MSNBC in Tucker Carlson's show - Taylor has posted the video.
As I look back, the Clinton campaign's response to the fraudulent accusations by Obama surrogates and the Obama campaign was weak on two fronts. Firstly, they should have highlighted the fact that Sen. Clinton was being swift-boated using those false charges. Specifically, Sen. Obama's surrogates or in some cases his campaign staff or advisors were repeatedly making false charges of racism against Sen. Clinton while Sen. Obama pretended to be above the fray by mouthing the usual platitudes about her - this is a pretty standard version of the swift-boating tactics used against Sen. John Kerry in 2004 (in Kerry's case, the swift-boating was largely done by people who were not part of George Bush's direct campaign team in order to allow for some level of deniability; the Obama campaign has not been that careful - and they didn't have to be since the media has been in the tank for him for quite a while now). Secondly, the Clinton campaign should have taken the strong stance that those who make false charges of racism are morally not that different from the racists they denounce. They did neither and that was a mistake.
If Sen. Obama becomes the Democratic nominee, two competing dynamics will probably come into play: the GOP's real racism will be met by the Obama campaign's valid pushback, and additionally, the Obama campaign will probably continue to use - in some cases - false accusations of race-baiting since such accusations have worked well for them in the Democratic primary. With this combination, they might just get lucky considering that McCain and the GOP are politically floundering and given that the GOP has long had a problem with minorities and race. However, I would advise the Obama campaign and his surrogates to tread carefully if he is the noninee. Unlike the Clinton campaign, it is quite likely that the GOP would turn any false charges to their advantage - even a single incident might be enough to turn the entire dynamic against Sen. Obama given the conservative strength in the media. Moreover, it's Saint McCain they are running against.