Monday, January 14, 2008
The X Factor
I think Ezra Klein's onto something when he talks about the impact, rather than the intentions behind, the recent flurry of racial innuendo coming from Clinton surrogates:
If Obama has to spend a lot of time talking about race, it's hard for him to be the post-racial candidate. If he has to spend a lot of time on divisive topics, it's hard for him to make an appeal for unity. And if he gets thrown off message at this point in the campaign, it will be exceedingly hard for him to blunt Clinton's momentum. And, whether it's a coordinated strategy on the part of the Clintons or not, it's definitely what's happening.
As I noted here, though, I think this conversation was bound to come up right about now anyway, given that we're moving out of the lily-white phase of the primary season. But the Clinton camp does seem to be adding their fuel to the fire, and it's not farfetched to imagine that the basis of their calculation is that these kinds of media flurries cause tactical damage to her campaign (there's a lot of Clinton folks explaining away their comments lately), while they cause strategic damage to Obama's.
Ezra also beat me to the punch in mentioning Malcolm X for the first time in the context of this controversy, but he did so as a tongue in cheek reference to John Edwards. But if I were in the Obama campaign, I would be very seriously considering just how he responds when a reporter or debate moderator asks him his opinion of Malcolm X. It's a potential hand grenade because of the very different perception of Malcolm among black and white voters, and among older and younger voters. If he embraces or doesn't agressively distance himself, he risks alienating some white voters (see: angry black man). If he holds him at arm's length, he could very well alienate some black voters (see: not black enough).
No, I don't think any of the other candidates faces the same risk if asked this question, for obvious reasons. Yes, I think he's going to be asked it, and soon.