I had hoped that Hillary Clinton’s use of two African-American surrogates to make the borderline-racist “We can’t nominate a black man” case against Barack Obama would backfire, as it deserved to. Looks as if Obama has figured out a way to make that happen.
Here’s Slate’s John Dickerson:
Obama was regularly interrupted by cheers and applause, but he delivered the evening’s rhetorical high point when he responded to a local politician. Earlier in the week, African-American State Senator Robert Ford announced he was backing Hillary Clinton. “Everybody else on the ballot is doomed,” Ford said, explaining what would happen if Obama were nominated. “Every Democratic candidate running on that ticket would lose because he’s black and he’s at the top of the ticket — we’d lose the House, the Senate and the governors and everything.”
Ford’s endorsement, along with that of another prominent African-American official, was timed to steal a little of Obama’s thunder and presumably contribute to another round of stories about whether he could appeal to black voters. Instead, it was a gift.
“I’ve been reading the papers in South Carolina,” Obama said before using a preacher’s cadence to paraphrase Ford’s remarks. “Can’t have a black man at the top of the ticket” The crowd booed. “But I know this: that when folks were saying, we’re going to march for our freedom they said, you can’t do that.” The audience roared. “When somebody said, you can’t sit at the lunch counter…you can’t do that. We did. And when somebody said women belong in the kitchen not in the board room. You can’t do that. Yes we can.” (At this point I can’t reconstruct the remarks from my tape recorder because the screaming was too loud.) The crowd responded by chanting: “Yes we can.”
Obama is going to gain more from Ford’s endorsement than Hillary Clinton is. It would have been too audacious, even for Obama, to so overtly link himself to America’s civil rights struggles, but Ford’s remarks invited him to. Obama will no doubt use that new portion of his stump speech again and outside of South Carolina.
The audience, well represented with African-Americans, loved it. “I got chills,” said Constance Eikins, an African-American stay at home Mom. “It’s very overwhelming. I am happy at the thought of it. We have come a long way.”
That’s twice so far Obama has managed to profit from attacks on himself. There may be something more important in a campaign than the capacity to counter-punch, but I can’t think what it is.