COMMENTS: Race Questions

Hillary Rodham Clinton made a three-part case for securing the nomination to both Katie Couric on CBS and Brian Williams on NBC: that she would prevail in most of the remaining primaries through June 3rd; that she would persuade the Democratic National Committee to relent and give credentials to her delegates from Michigan and Florida; and that she would enjoy a reversal of fortune from superdelegates. They are "not bound to support anyone," she argued to Couric. "They can make a decision today and change it tomorrow. Their job, according to the rules of the DNC, is to exercise independent judgment and determine who would be the best President and who would be the better, stronger candidate against John McCain."

Almost all the questions posed by both anchors came from the horse race school of journalism asking about timing and scenarios and tickets and endorsements. Both did ask a substantive question about her claim of strengthening support among "hardworking Americans, white Americans." This is how Williams put it: "Given your long history with civil rights, does it trouble you at all that--you know, what we know from the exit polls and anecdotal and factual information--that race was as much of a factor as it seemed to be?" Couric was slightly less mealymouthed: "Using those words, do you think that was dangerously close to playing the reverse race card?"

Let's just pause before we get to Rodham Clinton's answer. To Williams, surely the problem is not with "race" being a factor but "racism." What Williams seemed to mean but could not quite spell out was the following: "Given your long history with civil rights, does it trouble you that racism was as much of a factor in your support as it seemed to be?" To Couric, what was that "reverse" doing there? There does not seem to be anything "reverse" about boasting of one's support among "hardworking Americans, white Americans." If it was a race card, it was a straightforward one.

In answer to Couric, Rodham Clinton did not even acknowledge the existence of white racism. She attributed the "hardworking Americans, white Americans" phrase to the Associated Press. She insisted that her supporters choose her because "I would be a better fighter and a better champion" without mentioning the notion that they may dislike the color of her opponent's skin. "Obviously race and gender are a part of it because of who the candidates are but people have been voting based on who they thought would be the better President."

In answer to Williams, Rodham Clinton acknowledged that some of her support was motivated by racial animus against Obama but she claimed that its level was not significant, certainly no more significant than sex bias: "Polls have consistently shown that both race and gender are a factor but for such a minority of voters. I think we may be looking at the glass as half empty instead of half full. We have made enormous progress." Then she made this straightfaced claim that provoked no follow-up from Williams: "This campaign has been a historymaking, unprecedented effort to try to change people's opinions and attitudes and I think we have succeeded."

Change their attitudes from what to what?


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