En-a-ble (transitive verb)
1. provide somebody with means : to provide somebody with the resources, authority, or opportunity to do something.
It is hard to tell which moment from the recent South Carolina primary was more dishonest. The conventional wisdom is pointing to Bill Clinton’s dastardly, underhanded, too-clever-by-half, playing of the race card to type Barack Obama as “the black candidate” rather than the surprising and refreshing alternative candidate to his wife’s overhyped, no longer-so-inevitable candidacy. The ultimate expression of Clinton’s calumny came on Saturday when the former President ever-so-innocently, and oh so graciously said: “Jesse Jackson won South Carolina in ’84 and ’88. Jackson ran a good campaign. And Obama ran a good campaign here.”
Nevertheless, I believe that an even more dishonest moment was the sustained shock, shock, among both the Democratic rank-and-file and the punditocracy that Bill Clinton was involved in such dastardly, underhanded, too-clever-by-half tricks. Let’s face it. The Democratic party enabled – and in fact applauded – these tactics throughout the 1990s, as long as he usually pulled them on Republicans. Anyone who has watched the Clintons in action, and especially Bill Clinton when he is in full throttle, has to recognize the patent: comments that are as brilliant as they are pathological; comments that appear to be gracious and are in fact nasty; comments that simultaneously zero in on an opponent’s weakness and yet offer up a heavy dose of truth, rooted in a cynical but accurate taking of the political temperature.
What is most disturbing about Bill Clinton’s Jesse Jackson analogy is that it just might be true. As someone who saved his presidency by playing to the American people’s baser instincts, Bill Clinton has an uncanny nose for the American gutter. Just as it was premature for the Obamaniacs to pop the champagne and expect a cakewalk after Iowa, it is premature to expect a waltz to the nomination after South Carolina. It is indeed very possible that despite all the idiocy claiming Bill Clinton was “the first black president,” the demographics of South Carolina, and the identity politics of the Democratic Party were the key factors in Obama’s victory, as hundreds of thousands of African-Americans streamed to the polls inspired by the first serious black contender for a major party nomination. Exit polls show that Obama won 78 percent of the black vote, while Hillary Clinton and John Edwards split 75 percent of the white vote.
I write these words with a heavy heart because I want Obama’s poetry to be true and for Bill Clinton’s reading of the electorate to be wrong. I love the politics of possibility and of non-partisanship that Obama is evoking so effectively as opposed to the politics of cunning and calculation that Clinton is playing. Still it is unfortunate but true that you could argue pretty convincingly that Hillary Clinton won New Hampshire by mobilizing the women anxious to see the first woman president, and that Barack Obama won South Carolina by mobilizing the African-Americans anxious to see the first real black president, not some poseur taking a punchline far too seriously. (The origins of this “first black President” line came from a rant of the Nobel-prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison in the October 5, 1998 issue of The New Yorker. I remember thinking it may have been the single dumbest line I read during that festival of idiocy known as the Clinton impeachment; nearly ten years later, we see that the line was dumb and destructive because too many Clintonites took her stereotype-laden riff far too seriously).
Now, of course, the big question for the Clintons is what next? What does Hillary Clinton do in the week-and-a-half remaining that can make her the super-duper winner on Super-Duper Tuesday? For starters, as I argue in a Newsday op-ed this morning, Hillary Clinton has to remember that American voters already rejected the idea of two Clintons for the price of one, back during the 1992 election. She has to go back to doing what she did so effectively during two Senatorial campaigns and in her first term as New York’s Senator. She needs to keep Bill Clinton involved but not overly engaged, so that she can shine in the spotlight, so that she can be the one dominating the room. The 2008 Democratic presidential campaign cannot be a 1990s Clinton nostalgia tour. Hillary Clinton has to win – or lose – this campaign much more on her own than as the wife-of America’s fascinating but flawed ex-President.