It looks like today Barack Obama will *finally* be able to announce victory in the Democratic primary. And it feels like a hell of a long time coming. Chris Cillizza argues that Obama, in derailing Hillary's enormous early financial and political advantages, has pulled off "The Biggest Political Upset Ever" -- and from my limited knowledge of politics I'd agree.
But we'll have plenty more time to hash out Obama's strengths and the merits of his hagiography as his campaign continues forward. What I'm thinking about today is how this will affect the Clinton legacy. With his careless campaigning in North Carolina and his often intemperate remarks (not to mention Todd Purdam's racy article from Vanity Fair -- "Air Fuck One"!?!, now that's the premise for a movie), Bill Clinton's Political Chosen One glow has clearly lost wattage. But I'm not ready to sign on with Richard Cohen's evaluation of Hillary Clinton. Yes, I was often much pissed off by her tactics, but Cohen says he "loathe[s]"
what Hillary Clinton has done to herself. The incessant exaggerations, the cheap shots, the flights into hallucinatory history -- that sniper fire in Bosnia, for instance -- have turned her into a caricature of what her caricaturists long claimed she already was. In this campaign, Clinton has managed to come across as a hungry hack, a Janus looking both forward and backward and seeming to stand for nothing except winning. This, too, is sad.
I'm not sure if this is just Cohen blacking the kettle evenly (what's the reverse of gilding the lilly?) -- he dishes out a heaping helping of sanctimonious scorn to all the campaigns (always the bravest bet in an op ed.). But I don't think this will be how Hillary's campaign is seen a year hence. As Cohen argues in an earlier, truer passage of his column, the most painful aspect of this campaign has been "the resurgence of racism -- or maybe it is merely [his] appreciation of the fact that it is wider and deeper than [he] thought." And insofar as racism, as a legacy woven into the original pattern of our nation, continues to shape today's social fabric, it is inevitable that racism emerges in flashes from any political contest featuring a black man and a white person. When Hillary, in a particularly egregious example, offhandedly made her case to an editorial board that she retains support among "white Americans," I was angry. But I didn't imagine she was subtly spinning her comments for a racist demographic. To think or talk of "Black America" necessarily evokes White America, and to run against a black man forces you to remember that you are not only a woman, but a white woman. I say remember, because at some level white identity as well as black identity remain defined and circumscribed by each other in ways that are unique to America -- I think it's only white America that manages to forget that for periods of time. I may be bloviating, but I think this is true.
What does this have to do with Hillary's campaign? At the end of the day, I think it's clear that Hillary would never try to orchestrate a racist campaign -- and she's justifiably pissed that some think she has. But as much as we may hate it, racism -- evaluating things in terms of race or ethnicity -- remains essential to who we are as Americans (indeed, probably as humans). And sometimes -- particularly if we are married to the "first black president" -- we forget. This campaign necessarily handed us an opportunity to confront this fact again, so that we could work to effect a better change in that basic nature -- making its presence less insidious, making its judgments less execrable. It's hard to imagine what it would feel like to be a citizen of a color-blind America. It's a vision you can't just legislate, as France found out recently during the Parisian riots. But it's equally clear that we've made huge advances in 150 years, even if the last twenty have been particularly disheartening.
As this campaign moves into the general election, and Hillary begins to campaign for Obama (tirelessly and fiercely, I expect) we're going to see what actual racist campaigning looks like. Not from McCain himself, but from surrogates and third parties who want to play up fear of a jingoist chimera: The radical Black Arab terrorist representing the Islamofascist-Marxist party's Manchurian candidate. (I listen to Rush when I can -- know thy enemy -- and yes, it's just that incomprehensible.) While he'll decry it, McCain has already stamped this campaign with his unofficial imprimatur by arguing that Obama is the candidate of Hamas.
Remember, while Clinton didn't really receive more votes that Obama, she's second to him on the list of the most votes for a candidate in a contested Democratic primary ever. She's actually run a hell of a campaign, albeit with some slip-ups. She was swamped by a movement, not a gaffe, or "mis-remembering," or an SNL skit. And looking back a year from now, as Obama rounds out his first hundred days, what we'll remember, I think, is how fiercely Clinton fought for her party, how bumbling her hubby was, and how happy we're not chained to the sinking wreck of the G. O. P.