Strange Bedfellows: The Clintons, Karl Rove ... and Erica Jong?

The past week has been a play in three acts. First the Clintons went after Obama with some old-fashioned Swiftboating, together with what some observers considered subtle race-baiting. Then Karl Rove turned their lie into a "Republican talking point," garnishing it with a more nakedly racist pitch. Lastly, author Erica Jong issued a Rovian condemnation of Hillary's critics as sexist (all of them, apparently) and topped it off with a little white-liberal bigotry. I want a woman President, too -- but not this way.

Act One

I keep hoping Hillary Clinton will change direction, because she's a good Senator and this country needs a woman President. But her cynical (and self-destructive) choices have been hurting the country since that war vote in 2002, and last week's New Hampshire campaign was a new low.

First came the Swiftboating. Her campaign spread flyers around the state containing a lie about Obama's record -- one they already knew was a lie. Their claim that Obama had abandoned the pro-choice cause by voting "present" had already been disproved. NOW's Chicago director, a Clinton supporter, described the flyers as "offensive" and added: "I'm very disgusted at this tactic being used by the Clinton campaign."

We'll never know much this deception helped Sen. Clinton's come-from-behind victory.

What about the race card? Michael Eric Dyson says they played it when Bill said that Obama would be "a roll of the dice." Prof. Dyson said this was a play on the racist stereotype of African Americans as gamblers. I'm inclined to give Bill the benefit of the doubt because of his strong civil rights record. On the other hand, Prof. Dyson would be far more attuned to racist pitches than a thickheaded white guy like me, and a Southerner of Pres. Clinton's age would certainly remember all those "roll dem bones" stereotypes.

It certainly looked like racial condescension to me, however, when Hillary dismissed Martin Luther King by saying that Dr. King's "dream" only became real thanks to Lyndon Johnson. That's not only wrong, it's offensive. To get a sense of how hurtful this statement could be, imagine the reaction if Obama had said that "Susan B. Anthony was a good talker but it took Woodrow Wilson to pass the Nineteenth Amendment."

Some would argue that this distorted reading of history is to be expected from a candidate who includes her time with the Rose Law Firm as part of her "thirty five years" of "making change," while dismissing Obama's years of community organizing as "inexperience." What she seems to be saying is that black people didn't change this country -- their white patrons did. If this is all unintentional miscommunication, as some will argue, then she should apologize immediately.

But remember: This all came after Clinton supporter Bob Kerrey's Muslim-baiting comments about Obama. If it happens once, it might be an accident. But when it keeps happening it's deeply troubling.

Act Two

Now Karl Rove has come out and given us a preview of the Republican playbook should Obama be the nominee. Remember when the Clinton campaign was slamming her critics for repeating "Republican talking points"? Apparently, now she's writing them. Less than a week after those New Hampshire flyers went out Rove writes: "(Obama) had a habit of ducking major issues, voting 'present' on bills important to many Democratic interest groups, like abortion-rights ..." So Clinton pushes a lie and the GOP picks it up. Thanks a lot.

Rove's race-baiting isn't subtle, but here's a translation for cloistered liberals who have "never met a racist": When he says Obama is "lazy" (what he means to say is "shiftless"), he's reinforcing a racist stereotype. When he claims that Obama "bluffs" and makes "misstatements" or "exaggerations," he's appealing to bigots who believe black people are inherently dishonest.

Here's a classic code-talker sentence: "His trash talking was an unattractive carryover from his days playing pickup basketball at Harvard, and capped a mediocre night." "Trash talking" is perceived by white racists as both a black slang phrase and a common form of minority behavior, while whites have seen African Americans play "pickup basketball" in a thousand ghetto movies. (And bonus points to Karl for "cap," which is hip-hop slang for shooting people. Is he that smart? We report, you decide.)

When Rove says Obama offers "soaring" and "inspirational" rhetoric that isn't "filling or "sustaining" or "substantive," he's playing on the white stereotype of blacks as superficial "jive talkers." Rove adds (without "substantiation") that "Clinton won the beer drinkers, Mr. Obama the white wine crowd." The word that Rove is subliminally reinforcing here is "uppity."

When he adds that Obama looks like a "vitamin-starved Adlai Stevenson," the portrait is complete: Obama's a shiftless, uppity, fancy-speakin', trash-talkin', basketball playin', anemic white-boy wannabe. Throw in a talking point or two from the Clinton clan and the pitch to white racists is complete.

Act Three

Then, in a bizarre twist, Erica Jong weighs in with a strange screed called "Seeing Sexism." As far as I can tell, Ms. Jong is suggesting that everyone who opposes Sen. Clinton's candidacy is at heart a sexist, regardless of their reasons and no matter whether they're male or female. They are all, according to Ms. Jung, just like the Egyptians she imagines opposing the female pharoah Hatshepsut for being "too fat" or "too shrill."

I doubt she would knowingly take cues from Karl, but nevertheless that's classic Rove: The bad people hate my candidate, so anybody that doesn't support her is a bad person.

"We don't know how a female President would act," Ms. Jong writes. I'll leave that sentence to be parsed by those who have experienced sexism firsthand. But wouldn't it have been offensive if it had been written by a man (say, Lawrence Summers)? So why is it acceptable from Erica Jong?

But it's her no-doubt-inadvertent bigotry that is awkward, to say the least. How's this for "seeing racism"?

"Perhaps Hillary will appoint (Obama) to the Supreme Court where he can counter that embarrassing Clarence Thomas."

Get it? The nice white President will appoint a good Negro to counter that nasty Negro -- the one who can't do his job and is "embarrassing" his race. Because, after all, nobody knows more about handling colored help when they're screwing up than a wealthy liberal.

I fear Ms. Jong will have to live down these words for a very long time.


As I said, I'd like to see a woman President, and moving statements like "Can I Have a Dream?" illustrate some of the reasons why. I know that American women will benefit from the example of a female leader. (Men will, too.) But these 100 American women haven't benefited from Sen. Clinton's leadership. They died in a war she voted for and continued to defend for years.

Don't the women of America deserve better than that?

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