Columns, Politics
May 07, 2008

Read it here:

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.

Now, faced with a mathematical mountain climb that even Stephen Hawking could not ascend, the Clintons — and it is indeed both of them — are just about to paste a bumper sticker on the rear of the collapsing vehicle that carries her campaign. It reads: VOTE WHITE.

That’s the underlying message propping up a failed candidate. Check it out, you superdelegates: the buttoned down black guy is having trouble with blue collar white guys so cast your vote with the white chick who has transformed herself into an arm-wrestling, shot and a beer, kitchen table advocate for the working class and now it’s on to West Virginia and Kentucky where she’ll prove it.

So, after all the years they have been with us, after all the triumph and tastelessness, the accomplishments and embarrassments, we’re about to watch them act out an updated, mixed gender re-make of Thelma and Louise with Bill behind the wheel, the two of them sharing a knowing look, a wink, in the front seat as they take the Democrat party right off the cliff, the whole thing crashing and burning in a racial divide both he and she sought to heal all those years ago in Little Rock and then Washington.

Look at the numbers, the Clintons say: Your son didn’t get into the college that was his first choice but the black kid with lower SATs did? Your brother didn’t get the civil service slot on the fire department because he was white and there is an unspoken quota? You didn’t get the promotion because corporate diversity policy mutely suggested a person of color get it? Your kid is being bused an hour and half a day to a public school with low reading scores?

Scratch a sore, baby. Vote for Clinton.

Her campaign began — When? Last year? Last century? It moved across the landscape a summer ago like a cash cow, arriving at each stop surrounded by an air of incumbent expectancy, never sensing, never seeing the black guy who had the audacity to get in her way.

It was a campaign run and dominated by a fat, arrogant pollster, this Penn who once conspired to concoct a question in order to figure out where the Clintons would swim one summer. Martha’s Vineyard or Wyoming? In the past few weeks, Geoff Garin has turned Hillary Clinton into a very formidable candidate by doing something that apparently never occurred to the numbers cruncher Penn: Having her behave like a human being. Clearly, if Garin had been in the driver’s seat from the start of this spectacle, Obama would have a lot more time to watch White Sox home games.

But presidential politics does not exist in the land of ‘what if.’ It is an exhausting, seemingly endless process, fueled by money and ego and an ability to withstand mistakes of commission or omission as well as hands coming out of the recent past, like the strangling grip of Jeremiah Wright, a racist himself, who still might inhibit any chance of an Obama success.

It’s been an amazing ride, this whole campaign. It has three actors left on the stage, all with compelling personal stories to tell in this land of ours, itself the greatest story ever told. Everyone knows McCain’s history, an epic of the age. And more and more are getting to know Obama’s; a black guy from Chicago who, two, three years ago, would have had difficulty hailing a cab on a rainy afternoon in midtown Manhattan because of his skin color, suddenly within striking distance of being nominated for president by one of our two major political parties.

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.