Thankfully, the Democratic primary battle has gotten a lot tougher over the last two weeks. I think it's very fruitful and that the South Carolina primary was especially fruitful.
Ultimately, that's because Hillary Clinton's campaign went in and fought Barack Obama for the black voters who were 50% of the total Democratic vote in South Carolina. It was important for Hillary Clinton's campaign, the Democratic Party, and race relations in America that Hillary did her best to appeal to black voters in South Carolina over the last several months.
The Hillary Clinton campaign had a particularly difficult needle to thread in appealing to black voters. They needed to criticize Barack Obama without sounding "racial" and didn't do a particular good job of balancing the two goals. Hillary's own comment about the need for Lyndon Johnson to get civil rights legislation passed was poorly considered because she didn't guard against the likelihood that any reflection on the limits of MLK would be considered racist. Bill Clinton did even more poorly. His idea that Obama's anti-war stance has been "pure fantasy" was a mis-representation of Obama's position and his comment today about Obama and Jesse Jackson certainly sounds like he's treating Obama as the "black candidate."
Another reporter asked what it said about Obama that it “took two people to beat him.” Clinton again passed. “That’s’ just bait, too. Jesse Jackson won South Carolina twice, in '84 and '88. And he ran a good campaign. Senator Obama's run a good campaign here, he’s run a good campaign everywhere.”
The reference to Jackson seemed a way to downplay today's result in a state where a majority of voters are African American. Clinton was also asked today about charges of race baiting, and defended himself by citing testimony from John Lewis and Andrew Young, who marched with Martin Luther King. "I don't have to defend myself on civil rights," he said.
In a way, it sounds like Clinton was just returning fire in an "if you bait Hillary about me, I'm going to bait you about Jesse Jackson" kind of way. But it doesn't matter. It's much worse to pin "being black" on Obama's shoulders than it is to pin "married to Bill" on Hillary's. Bill Clinton has emerged as the major attack dog in the Hillary campaign. However, Hillary should find somebody else to do her (necessary) dirty work if Bill doesn't have enough discretion to do the job.
Still, the fact that Hillary Clinton made herself accountable to black voters while running against a black candidate was a big advance in the politics of race and she deserves credit for it.