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January 15, 2008
Clinton, Obama agree to make nice on race
After a contentious 48 hours where both leading Democrats traded racially charged barbs, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have called for a truce when it comes to the subject of race:
Speaking to black and Hispanic New Yorkers, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton tried on Monday to quell a controversy over race in the fight for the Democratic presidential nomination by praising the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and describing him as a trailblazer for both herself and her rival, Senator Barack Obama. The intensity of the dispute probably alarmed both camps. But why should they have been surprised. The Democratic party is the party of identity politics. When you challenge one of the core constituencies in the party, disunity and bad feelings are bound to surface.
Last week, Mrs. Clinton said President Lyndon B. Johnson had been the shepherd of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, enacting a priority of Dr. King — a comment that Obama supporters and some other people viewed as minimizing Dr. King’s work.
Mrs. Clinton quickly said she had meant no slight, and on Monday she issued a statement proposing a truce.
Mr. Obama, meanwhile, said at a news conference that Mrs. Clinton had always been “on the right side” of civil rights issues — but in television interviews, he also accused the Clinton campaign of playing up the race issue as “strategy” and of being “silly.” By Monday evening, he urged Democrats to call a truce to avoid dividing the party.
Both candidates have their own cards to play for and against each other. Hillary has tried the gender card with little success (although her "Crying Moment" in New Hampshire is considered by some a variation on playing the gender card) while Obama's attempt to accuse the Clinton's of racial insensitivty did nothing but start a row that might have split the party if it continued.
It remains to be seen whether either side can resist the temptation to play identity politics. After all, that's what their party is all about. And when detonated properly, the race or gender bomb can do a lot of damage to an opponent.