There have been plenty of racist attacks directed at Obama and plenty of sexist attacks directed at Hillary, but mainly these attacks have come from the media and other third parties and not the candidates (with a few exceptions of statements made by candidate's surrogates). I discount the notion that a candidate is using a strategy relying on bias unless I see it in something that the candidate personally is responsible for - such as advertising themes or statements by campaign staff.
Many Obama supporters have been charging that Hillary herself has used racist tactics against him, but until a few days ago, I just wasn't seeing it. When I posted this, my thought was that Obama was benefiting from sexism and Hillary was benefiting from racism, but that neither candidate was doing (nor needed to do) much to stoke irrational bias among voters. I think taking the prejudices of the electorate into account is not only a legitimate part of politics, it pretty much is politics. From a tactical and moral standpoint, though, candidates need to walk the line between positioning themselves in such a way as to maximize their appeal to the whole set of beliefs that voters subscribe to, on one hand, and playing on the peoples' base impulses.
Over the years, I've grown accustomed to the Republican variety of racist politics. Republicans rely on code speech to signal white voters that they share their animosity toward blacks. Paul Krugman recently reminded people of Ronald Reagan's litany of racist code speech, most famously his attack on a Cadillac-driving "welfare queen" in Chicago:
"She has 80 names, 30 addresses, 12 Social Security cards and is collecting veteran's benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She's got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names."
Reagan never said she was black. He didn't have to, because he knew whites would fill in that blank themselves. Problem was, she didn't exist.
So when Republicans say things like "law and order", what they mean is "put those ghetto blacks in jail" and their white suburban and rural supporters eat it up. But when people accused Hillary of using racist tactics, I discounted it because didn't detect any code speech in her or her campaign's statements. What I saw was her going negative on Obama in South Carolina, but again, I thought, that's just politics. Then this comment by P6 eventually made me realize that she had chosen to go massively negative in South Carolina, the primary state with the highest percentage of African-American voters, precisely because she knew those voters would rally around Obama, just as they did. This creates the perception in the media that Obama is "just" the black candidate, a narrative which Bill Clinton tried to cement:
"Jesse Jackson won South Carolina in 84 and 88," former President Bill Clinton told reporters outside a polling station in Columbia. "Jackson ran a good campaign. And Obama ran a good campaign here."
Translation? The Clinton's want people to believe Obama is simply this year's Jesse Jackson.
This is race-baiting. It's just as bad as code speech. And I think it's indisputable that the Clintons engaged in it in South Carolina.
This morning, John Edwards dropped out. Some people think those voters could break either way. Clearly, his endorsement decision is crucial to how that plays out, but they'd have to break overwhelmingly for Obama to make the race competitive. Personally, I don't think that's likely. In other words, on February 6th a Clinton nomination won't be a mathematical certainty, but the trend will be there and the media will sell that story.
So it's still most probable that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. A nominee who has burned her bridges with African-American voters. Burned them, and dynamited the remnants. And in choosing to use racist tactics to beat Obama, she made it extremely difficult for him to accept the second slot on the ticket - even though that would be the best thing for her candidacy, for his prospects at winning the Presidency in the future, and for the nation. I can now understand why, if she wins the nomination, people might choose to support no one and stay home on election day. I am not there yet. At this point, personally I see the prospect of President McCain (or less likely, President Romney) being a far greater evil in so many ways that I still would rather take Hillary.