Robert Johnson of Black Entertainment Television then stoked the fire once more, asserting that when Bill and Hillary were fighting for civil rights, Barack was in Chicago doing whatever he was doing in the neighborhoods. The implication: Barack was doing drugs, while Bill and Hillary marched. Denying malevolent intent, Johnson, too, apologized.
But the damage has been done. And reviewing the returns from Nevada and the polls in South Carolina, it may be irreversible. Barack is no longer a crossover candidate who transcends race. The color-blind coalition he seemed to be assembling appears to be coming apart.
His momentum is gone. The emotional movement that was Iowa has passed. The media are no longer smitten. And as African-Americans rally to him, Democratic women, a majority of the party, are rallying around Hillary.
Consider the stark Nevada returns. Though Barack used as the refrain of his concession speech in New Hampshire "Yes, we can!" -- the battle cry of Hispanics, "Si, se puede" -- though he was endorsed by the Culinary Workers Union, he lost Hispanics by nearly two to one.
Equally ominous, he lost both the white vote and the women's vote by the same three-to-two margin, while sweeping the African-American vote five to one. Once a candidate who happened to be black, Obama is now the black candidate.
This may be a portent of what is to come. With Hispanics, whites and women a huge majority of Democrats, Hillary should sweep a majority of states in the Southwest and the West, including Texas and California, where African-Americans are relatively few in number and Hispanics are many.
If Barack loses South Carolina, he is cooked, as the Clintonites have made him the favorite. Even if he carries South Carolina, it will be written off as black folks coming out for a native son.
Folks will look instead at how well, or badly, he does among whites. If Hillary and Edwards crush him among white voters, the message will be that the Democratic Party will risk ruin if it nominates an African-American who has shown little appeal among whites and even less among Hispanics. For whites and Hispanics are the swing votes in presidential politics.
In three weeks, Barack has been ghettoized. The crossover candidate, the great liberal hope, has become a Jesse Jackson, who is ceded the black vote and a few states, then given a speaking role at the convention, as the party moves on to the serious business of electing a president.
One cannot deny that Bill Clinton was right. Nominating Barack would be a "roll of the dice." But nor can one deny that Bill and Hillary helped make sure the risk would be one the party would not take.