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Obama - And Kennedy - Raise the Stakes

A Commentary by Dick Morris

Monday, January 28, 2008

Barack Obama used his victory in South Carolina to change the dialogue with the Clintons in the presidential race. He has taken Hillary’s and Bill’s attempt to use the race issue and replied with a clever move. He has basically called their bluff.

Now Obama has come back saying, in effect, “Yes, I know that you have made this election about race. But I am betting on the decency, fairness, tolerance, and objectivity of the American electorate. We all share the same hopes and dreams.”

In effect, he said I match you and raise you.

To date, Obama has avoided the race issue. But after his smashing win in South Carolina, he embraced the issue and turned it around to his advantage. He did not go down the path of Jesse Jackson and base his candidacy on a rainbow coalition. Rather, he decided to rise above the Clintons and appeal to America’s ecumenical diversity.

So now Super Tuesday is a contest between those who are mired in racial division and those who are willing to transcend it.

The massive outpouring of criticism of the Clintons for their tactics in South Carolina is withering fire which may take a serious toll among Hillary’s voters. Caroline Kennedy’s invocation of her father in endorsing Obama seems right on the money. Ted Kennedy’s support for him legitimizes white backing for the Illinois Senator and could have a big impact.

The Clintons were banking on a silent invocation of racial division stemming from a massive Obama win in South Carolina among black voters and a last place finish among whites. Their hopes were that whites would note the racial split in South Carolina and react by voting for Clinton.

But this racial divisiveness can only take place in the dark, out of sight. With the glare of Obama’s idealism shining on the dialogue, conscience comes into play and the American electorate may overcome the divisiveness of the Clintons.

Will Obama’s move trump the Clinton strategy? A lot hangs in the balance. Ultimately, the choice will say more about our soul as a nation than about the candidates in this election.

The boldness of Obama in accepting the Clintons’ injection of race as an issue and his insistence on an enlightened answer challenges us all. Even as one’s head warns that the strategy will fail, one’s heart hopes that it will succeed.

Either way, Obama has made the Super Tuesday vote more about who we are than who the candidates running for president are.

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