Jonah Goldberg

As the Barack and Hillary Show extended its tour to such off-off-off Broadway primary states as Indiana and North Carolina (coming soon to Puerto Rico!), it was inevitable that both sides would dust off the "playing the race card" script.

Recently, Bill Clinton was asked whether he had played the race card when he compared Barack Obama's South Carolina victory to Jesse Jackson's in 1984 and 1988. "No," he said in one of his typical outbursts of enraged self-pity. "I think that they played the race card on me, and we now know ... that they planned to do it all along." Then Clinton added to an aide - without realizing he was being recorded - "I don't think I should take any (expletive deleted) from anybody on that, do you?"

Oh, the ironies. First, Clinton's initial comments were entirely valid. Obama boasts enormous black support, more than 90 percent, and that's what put him (and Jackson) over the top in South Carolina. Second, while it's arguable that the Clinton campaign has, at the margins, played the race card against Obama, it's hardly been with much gusto, effectiveness or racism.

Indeed, Obama's spinners must be yoga masters considering how far they have to stretch to make their case. Betsy Reed, of the left-wing magazine The Nation, cites the Clinton campaign's reference to Obama's past drug use (raised most prominently by black Clinton surrogate Bob Johnson) and Bill's belittling of Obama's claims of anti-war purity as a "fairy tale" as examples of invidious racial politics.

Huh? Bill Clinton's marijuana use was an issue in 1992, and in 2000 the press went bonkers over allegations that George W. Bush had used drugs long ago. So why should it be racist to mention Obama's even more significant drug use? Likewise, the use of the phrase "fairy tale" wasn't racial. Even Hillary's entirely valid, but now-infamous, observation that it was Lyndon Johnson, not Martin Luther King Jr., who secured passage of the Civil Rights Act can be described as racist only if the standard for racism is reduced to anything that hurts Obama. Dubbing inconvenient truths as "racist" is poisonous to U.S. politics. Which is why I have so little sympathy for the Clintons, because it was the Clintons themselves who mainstreamed crying racism (or sexism, or, in the case of Chinese fundraising scandals, anti-Chinese sentiment) in response to criticism.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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