Playing the race card

Bill Clinton plays it, hard and crudely.

Well, this one wasn’t hard to call, though I’d expected a little bit more subtlety:

Bill Clinton: Race, gender key in S.C.

By CHARLES BABINGTON, Associated Press Writer

DILLON, S.C. – Bill Clinton said Wednesday he expects blacks to vote for Barack Obama and women to vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the dynamic may cause his wife to lose the South Carolina Democratic presidential primary Saturday.

Racist? You tell me. The message is clear: Obama is going to win South Carolina, but that won’t really count, because he’ll be doing it with the votes of black folks. (Maybe those ballots ought to count only as 3/5ths of a vote each?)

The basic fact of the contest is that if it becomes racial, Obama loses, while if it becomes gendered, HRC wins. It would have required patriotism, decency, and attention to the paramount goal of beating the Republicans for the Clintons to refrain from playing the race card. Apparently those qualities are in short supply.

Update A pro-Clinton reader furiously accuses me of inventing the racist edge to Bill Clinton’s remarks. So let’s hear from his old adviser (and Trent Lott’s), Dick Morris, who is surely an expert on the workings of Bill Clinton’s mind and on the political uses of racial prejudice:

How Clinton Will Win The Nomination by Losing South Carolina

Hillary Clinton will undoubtedly lose the South Carolina primary as African-Americans line up to vote for Barack Obama. And that defeat will power her drive to the nomination.

The Clintons are encouraging the national media to disregard the whites who vote in South Carolina’s Democratic primary and focus on the black turnout, which is expected to be quite large. They have transformed South Carolina into Washington, D.C. — an all-black primary that tells us how the African-American vote is going to go.

By saying he will go door to door in black neighborhoods in South Carolina matching his civil rights record against Obama’s, Bill Clinton emphasizes the pivotal role the black vote will play in the contest. And by openly matching his record on race with that of the black candidate, he invites more and more scrutiny focused on the race issue.

Of course, Clinton is going to lose that battle. Blacks in Nevada overwhelmingly backed Obama and will obviously do so again in South Carolina, no matter how loudly former President Clinton protests. So why is he making such a fuss over a contest he knows he’s going to lose? Precisely because he is going to lose it. If Hillary loses South Carolina and the defeat serves to demonstrate Obama’s ability to attract a bloc vote among black Democrats, the message will go out loud and clear to white voters that this is a racial fight. It’s one thing for polls to show, as they now do, that Obama beats Hillary among African-Americans by better than 4-to-1 and Hillary carries whites by almost 2-to-1. But most people don’t read the fine print on the polls. But if blacks deliver South Carolina to Obama, everybody will know that they are bloc-voting. That will trigger a massive white backlash against Obama and will drive white voters to Hillary Clinton.

(Emphasis added.)