Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Geraldine Ferraro and the Clinton Campaign's "Race" Narrative

By Joel Wendland

When Geraldine Ferraro made comments about Barack Obama's race just days before the Mississippi primary, it was no slip of the tongue.

Ferraro told a reporter late last week that "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position," she continued. "And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept."

Taking offense, many people read Ferraro as restating the oft-repeated right-wing claim that leading African American figures are undeserving and rose unfairly through the ranks only through affirmative action.

No expression of Obama's well-organized, inspiring, and substantive campaign. No assertions that perhaps Obama is winning the popular vote among Democratic voters because people across gender, race, and region see him as electable and as an honest, trustworthy leader who will bring real change after 8 years in the Bush desert. Only his race.

Ferraro practically confirmed that she meant to hint at the affirmative action issue when she responded to criticism of her comments by saying that during the nomination process "
in 1984 if my name was Gerard Ferraro instead of Geraldine Ferraro, I would have never been chosen as a vice presidential candidate."

But she couldn't let it rest with this offensive sentiment and lashed out at those who sought an apology:
"Racism works in two different directions. I really think they're attacking me because I'm white. How's that?" In other words, Black people who didn't like my offensive comment are racist toward me for saying so.

She appeared to project the calculating nature of her comment, its timing and intended purpose onto the motives of the Obama campaign for responding to her remarks. She accused Obama of playing the "race card."
"He knows damn well that the best thing to do in a situation like this is to come back and hit with race."

Through it all, the Clinton campaign refused to fire Ferraro, to denounce or reject her comments, only expressing "disagreement."

This type of "wink-wink" response, of course, is no accident either.

The original purpose of the comments was to get a Clinton surrogate to inject race – without substantive discussion about racism and inequality – into the campaign in order to ensure that it was being talked about on March 11th, the day of the Mississippi primary, a state where approximately half of the Democratic voters are African American. (Note that Ferraro's comments were first reported on Mar. 7, one day before the nearly all-white Wyoming caucus, but little discussion took place in the media when Obama claimed an 18-point victory there.)

The point was to give the media the talking points to dismiss the 24-point landslide outcome in Obama's favor in Mississippi without having to have Hillary or Bill Clinton explicitly raise the racist card themselves as they mistakenly did in South Carolina.

This time Ferraro played the role Hillary and Bill Clinton played last time. But as Ferraro expressed in her angry retort about how sexist her detractors are, she thought she would have the added cover of not being Bill.

The remark fits into what increasingly appears to be the long-term campaign narrative of the Clinton folk: Barack Obama is Black and therefore not qualified or electable.

This notion was overtly expressed by Clinton backer Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell in early February, the day after the Super Tuesday losses for the Clinton campaign. He
said that he thought Barack Obama would not win in Pennsylvania because he is Black, and voters in his state are racist and won't go for that.

While Rendell and his surrogates described his view as "realistic," when taken with the Clintons' comments in South Carolina and Geraldine Ferraro's statements before Mississippi (in addition to a host of other comments by lesser lights in the Clinton campaign) the racist theme is not just a slip of the tongue by exuberant supporters.

This is what campaign PR people call a "narrative." It gives legitimacy and credence to the right-wing's planned racist attacks on Barack Obama. And it deserves to be exposed and shunned. It has no place in democratic (small "d") politics. And if the Democratic Party doesn't watch out, racist divisiveness will cost them, and the American people, the fall campaign. But then again, one is beginning to wonder if Hillary Clinton really cares about the success of any Democratic campaign in the fall without her.


Synergist said...

It's not the Democratic party that needs to watch out - Barack Obama is renewing and rebuilding it even as the Clintons and their surrogates seek to create strife and turmoil. The Clintons need to be watching out - the former darlings of the party are positioning themselves outside the new foundation, presently, and if they or Geraldine Ferraro want any influence they'd be well-advised to take their old-school blinders off. Rendell's comments were seen for what they were by many, particularly in the blogosphere: and even fewer (outside the media, looking to the very people they were covering to define the narrative) were fooled by Ferraro's ploy:

James said...

Ferarro was on the NBC Nightly News today. She pretty much continued and expanded upon her previous statements.

Note: This transcript is essentially accurate in the content of her message, but I might've missed a few words.

"What I'm sure what the Obama campaign does is do a search, which my campaign did, for every piece of newspaper out with the name. I think they took it.I think they released it to the national press. Who else would release it to the national press? Yeah, it is devisive, and they're the ones who did it. They went to the national press. They had two people on television, both Susan Rice and Jan Tokassy, both of whom I know and know well, getting up their and calling me a racist. I have spent forty years fighting agaisnt discrimination... It is so hurtful... They had a negative campaign of hundreds of e-mails, phone calls to my office. They actually got in touch with the CEO, they thought I was still wokring for (can't make out company name). It was crazy."

"I think this is the last time the Obama campaign will be playing this kind of race card."

"They should apologize to me for calling me a racist."

I'd like to make note that I have no illusions about Obama or the Democratic Party in general. They are both essentially capitalist (albeit, in the meantime, the lesser of two evils). However, these statements by Ferraro are racist, and could've easily came out of the mouths of Rush Limbaugh or some other ultra-reactionary. I'm pissed off about the sheer absurdity of these comments and how anyone could take them seriously.

Scott Ott said...

You make some good points, but err when you try to tar the GOP with the brush of the Democrat party's racism problem.

The Republican nominee won't pander to the prejudice of the ignorant by implying Sen. Obama hasn't earned his nomination (if he should receive it), or that he benefited from a sympathetic leg up due to his mixed racial heritage.

The problem with Sen. Obama is the problem with Sen. Clinton -- it's their ideology that matters to Republicans, and should matter to Democrats. The end of the primary season, one hopes, will bring to a close all this ridiculous banter about race, and bring the focus to what the rivals believe and what they have done thus far. Of course, since mainstream media reporters have primarily kept this divisive discussion alive with their baiting questions, perhaps I'm a bit too optimistic that they might move on.

Sen. Obama may be the most impressive candidate, as far as his stage presence and bearing, of any since perhaps Ronald Reagan. He looks, as they say, presidential. Not only is he a great orator, but he conducts himself with more dignity than either his Democrat rival, or his potential Republican opponent. He has assembled a gifted campaign team that has produced enviable results.

I look forward to the day when we can welcome the secessionist Democrats back into the Union, and move forward together as one nation, under God.
Scott Ott

Joel said...

re: scott ott's comment

Really? Cuz, it was Rep. Steven King (Republican) who talked about the "optics" of Barakc Obama that will have terrorists dancing in the streets. Of course "optics" means he is Black and probably muslim. Then there is the whole narrative of anti-immigration sentiment which starts on the premise that Latin American people are racially and culturally un-American and dangerous. There is the Republicans' persistent and pervasive opposition to civil rights. Everything Ferraro said is right out of the Republican book on race.

Anonymous said...

But isn't what Ferraro said objectively true as a matter of fact?
Would a relatively inexperienced junior senator from Illinois who was white have generated much interest as a candidate?
It is precisely because he is Black and has articulated a new politics of Hope based on overcoming racism and uniting the country that his run for president has surged and inspired millions of people, many first time voters and especially the youth. He could never have done this without the experience of being Black and growing up in this country. I don't think any white candidate has the life experience to do what Obama has been able to accomplish.

the Jaded Prole said...

Being Black didn't help Jesse Jackson in his bid for the Presidency. Obama has a certain charisma and is a shrewd and skilled politician who, while appearing Black, doesn't appear "too Black" to make the majority of Whites uncomfortable. That may sound bigoted but the fact is there is plenty of racism alive in this country but much of it is a cultural prejudice against a stereotype that Obama doesn't fit. Still, that he did so well in Mississippi is definitely a sign of progress.

Anonymous said...

Does Barack Obama have to be a "threat" to be the real deal?