COMMENTS: Racial Calculus

Martin Luther King Day saw all three major Democratic Presidential candidates pay tribute to the Civil Rights leader in South Carolina, a state that "still flies the Stars & Bars to the Confederacy in many places," as NBC's Lee Cowan pointed out. CBS' Jim Axelrod repeated the expectations game that the Rodham Clinton campaign is now playing--"expecting a double digit loss in South Carolina" with "any closer margin" counting as "a good week."

ABC's George Stephanopoulos predicted that attacks from Rodham Clinton on Obama that seem "nasty or unfair" will alienate the Democrats' African-American base at the General Election. The longer the fight goes on, the more difficult a Rodham Clinton-Obama or an Obama-Rodham Clinton ticket becomes to achieve, yet the more it becomes a "political necessity" to heal that rift.

On ABC, Deborah Roberts (no link) examined Obama's appeal to white voters, calling it a "delicate challenge" to combine that with a mobilization of blacks by appealing to racial solidarity. Her argument relied on Shelby Steele's book A Bound Man. Steele characterized Obama's bargain with white voters thus: "I will not annoy you and exhaust you by rubbing your face in America's history of racism if you will not hold my race against me, if you will give me a chance."

CBS, by contrast, had Byron Pitts contrast Obama with the black political leaders who were proteges of King in the '60s: then "it was race and segregation; leaders today focus on better education, better jobs." With 9,500 African-Americans in elected political office nationwide, Pitts noted, "race is still an irresistible force in America but no longer an immovable object."


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