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Obama: Affirmative Action Candidate?!

Tuesday, 11 Mar 2008 | 3:52 PM ET

Some mistakes in a campaign have a very limited half-life. That was true of Obama adviser Samantha Power's statement that Hillary Clinton is a "monster" -- an obvious lapse into hyperbolic trash talk that simply reflects the Obama team's anger over the New York senator's tactics. Power resigned.

Others loom larger -- with longer-lasting effects. We may have just seen one of those in the comments of Clinton supporter Geraldine Ferraro, the 1984 Democratic vice presidential nominee. "If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position," she told a California newspaper.

It's perhaps understandable why Ms. Ferraro, who broke the gender barrier on major-party presidential tickets, would discount Mr. Obama's success in this way. Political opponents viewed her selection by Walter Mondale a generation ago in the same way, and she's arguing that sexism stands in the way of Mrs. Clinton's attempt to break the ultimate glass ceiling by winning the presidency.

But Ms. Ferraro's put-down comes after a series of jibes from Team Clinton that can all be seen as attempts to cut Obama down to size: suggestions from Bill and Hillary Clinton that they'd might offer him the second spot on her ticket, even as he leads the race; the questions they've raised about whether he's qualified to be commander-in-chief; their disparagement of his victories in caucus states.

By linking Obama's emergence to race -- as Bill Clinton appeared to do weeks ago in likening Obama's South Carolina victory to Jesse Jackson's in an earlier campaign -- Ms. Ferraro walked onto very thin ice within a Democratic party that needs African-American support, and that prides itself on progressive racial attitudes.

A Clinton aide quickly declared that "we disagree with" Ms. Ferraro. Don't be surprised if the disavowals grow more strenuous. Diminishing the Obama phenomenon as an affirmative-action candidacy is a dangerous sentiment for the Clinton campaign to be associated with.

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