Hillary Clinton on White Americans: Race Baiting or Just The Facts M'am?

BlogHer Original Post

Kathy Kiely and Jill Lawrence reported recently at USA Today that Hillary Rodham Clinton made these "blunt remarks about race" in an interview when asked how she could win the Democratic nomination.

"I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on," she said in an interview with USA TODAY. As evidence, Clinton cited an Associated Press article "that found how Sen. Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me."

"There's a pattern emerging here," she said.

Not surprisingly, Senator Clinton's comments have generated a firestorm of blog, pundit and op-ed commentary. Clinton has not apologized for nor retracted her remarks, and later:

Clinton rejected any idea that her emphasis on white voters could be interpreted as racially divisive. "These are the people you have to win if you're a Democrat in sufficient numbers to actually win the election. Everybody knows that."

Unfortunately, Clinton's assertion is difficult to prove with evidence rather than conjecture, was interpreted widely as racially divisive and is part of a pattern of remarks from her, her husband and her campaign which have led her to lose support from a key Democratic party voting block that she has gained versus Barack Obama.

At Jack and Jill Politics, dnA posts data which indicates both that Clinton's claim is unfounded ant that her loss of support from African Americans is far greater than lack of support for Obama from whites.

Primary elections are not the same as general elections. Democrats have not done well in the presidential election among white voters for decades since the Republicans developed and deployed the racially divisive "Southern Strategy." Therefore, even though Clinton does better than Obama among white voters in some states (as Obama has beaten Clinton in states with white populations over 90%), that does not support her assertion that she would then go on to win among white voters in the general election. dnA links to Steve M. at No More Mister Nice Blog who points out:

According to CNN's 1996 exit poll, Bill Clinton lost the white vote (Dole 46%, Clinton 43%, Perot 9%). He lost the white male vote by an even larger margin (Dole 49%, Clinton 38%, Perot 11%). And he lost gun owners badly (Dole 51%, Clinton 38%, Perot 10%). However, Clinton won the popular vote overall 49%-41%-8%, and he won 70% of the electoral votes.

In 2000 -- when Al Gore won the popular vote by half a million votes -- he lost white males to Bush by a whopping 60%-36%, according to CNN's exit poll. He lost men overall 53%-42%. He lost whites overall 54%-42%. He lost gun owners 61%-36%. He lost small-town voters 59%-38% and rural voters 59%-37%. He lost the Midwest overall 49%-48%.

I'm not saying these are goals to aspire to. I'm saying it's a myth that Democrats had Joe Sixpack in their back pockets until that snooty arugula-eater Barack Obama came along, and it's a myth that they suffer crushing defeats when bowlers and boilermaker-drinkers aren't on board.

Unless, of course, Clinton is saying that she will lose less badly among white voters because racists would be more willing to vote for her than for Obama (despite the fact that Obama has increased his support with those voters Clinton believes will not vote for him). Nope not racially divisive at all. And certainly racist voters couldn't possibly be sexist and be more willing to vote for McCain than for her in the general election.

Clinton's latest remark is part of a long string of comments and statements which have been interpreted by black voters as racially divisive and have seriously damaged Clinton with the black community. Obama however has shown a steady increase in positive ratings among white voters as he has become better known. A recent poll illustrates this contrast:

The question is this: Have white Democrats soured on Obama? Apparently not. Although his unfavorable rating from the group is up five percentage points since last summer in polls conducted by The New York Times and CBS News, his favorable rating is up just as much.

On the other hand, black Democrats’ opinion of Hillary Clinton has deteriorated substantially (her favorable rating among them is down 36 percentage points over the same period).

While a favorable opinion doesn’t necessarily translate into a vote, this should still give the Clintons (and the superdelegates) pause. Electability cuts both ways.

Whereas the white vote has tipped in favor of Republicans in modern presidential election history, conversely the black vote has gone overwhelmingly to Democrats. When talking about building the coalition needed to win in November, it is the black vote Democrats need to not take for granted and ensure they receive.

After Tuesday's results from the Indiana and North Carolina primaries, Clinton's campaign signaled that she would run a positive, policy-focused campaign through the remaining weeks of primaries. Not all observers quite believed that because of the overwhelming odds against Clinton securing the nomination at this point. Since Obama has shown no signs of having some gigantic skeleton lurking that nobody has been able to quite dig up yet, the only remaining option for Clinton is to succeed in portraying Obama as a scary black man for whom the majority of white Americans simply will not vote.

Prior to Clinton's USA Today comments, in The Huffington Post, Mike Barnicle wrote that "Race Is All the Clintons Have Left:"

Sitting there on the set, listening to the endless wrap-ups and explanation of the exit polls, I was on the verge of faking my own death on national TV in order to go talk to myself about the obvious, unspoken equation in the little there is left to this fight between Obama and Clinton. The beast that is nearly always there in American life, the danger that rustles the shrubs at the edge of our daily existence -- race -- was routinely ignored in the recitation of numbers pouring out of North Carolina and Indiana....

And Hillary Clinton, always ambitious, an over-achiever, tough, smart and resilient. And now on the edge of writing a truly ugly chapter for all to see.

I agree. Witnessing Clinton's historic, ambitious campaign reduced to appealing to the worst aspects of of some Americans is depressing. I was heartened by her Tuesday night speech when she promised to work hard on behalf of the eventual Democratic nominee. There are divisions borne of this hard fought campaign for the nomination and it will require her leadership and genuine support of Obama's candidacy in order to heal them. I had never joined the chorus of calls for her to withdraw but I had hoped she would since the math has been the math for months now. Tuesday night, however, I felt good about her campaign for the first time in a long time. Despite my loss of respect for her given her race baiting and attempts to attack, belittle and diminish the candidate whom I support at the expensive of making her own affirmative case for support, I appreciate that she has helped create a path for the next viable woman candidate for President, that she has energized many women voters in support of her campaign and that because she is staying in the race through the remaining primaries she is helping contribute to the increase in turnout and participation in democracy.

And then then came the words that seemed to imply that I am not hard working, that it is not my vote that matters in choosing the next president and that a black candidate cannot earn the votes of white Americans.

ColorofChange.org has organized a campaign to call and email Democratic Party Chairman, Howard Dean, to call on Clinton to end her race-baiting.

Denounciations and rejections of Clinton's comments are extensive. Here is a sampling:

Susan Duclos, Wake Up America, Hillary Clinton Plays The Race Card

Faye Anderson, Anderson At Large, Clinton: Vote White

Kathy, Liberty Street, Hillary Clinton: "Hard-Working Americans" Are White Americans

Clinton supporter, Eileen Smith, Poll Dancing (and also of In The Pink Texas), White Lines (Don't Do It)

Suzanne Anderson, Table One, Adios!

Shark-Fu, Angry Black Bitch, A toast from this hard-working American

Jenn Fang, Reappropriate, I'm White. I Should Be President.

Pam Spaulding, Pam's House Blend, White dog whistles no more

SusanG, Daily Kos, Gallup: Obama's Support Among Whites Equals Kerry's

Julie Pippert and Jen, MOMocrats, Interview with a white woman who is hard-working and American, but voting for Obama

Kim Pearson, Professor Kim's News Notes, Covering Race in the Presidential Race

Denise Clay, The Mad Political Scientist, The Candidate for White America

Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal, Damsel of Distress

Related: Donna Brazile takes on Clinton supporter, Paul Begala's claim that Democrats can't win with "eggheads and African Americans"

When BlogHer CE Maria Niles blogs about race, gender and politics, she does it at PopConsumer


In order to comment on BlogHer.com, you'll need to be logged in. You'll be given the option to log in or create an account when you publish your comment. If you do not log in or create an account, your comment will not be displayed.