Even as it became clear Saturday night that the Clintons had been dealt a stinging rebuke by South Carolina Democrats, former President Bill Clinton, according to the by no means hostile Washington Post, "compared Obama's victory to those of Jesse Jackson in the same state in 1984 and 1988. 'Jackson ran a good campaign and Obama ran a good campaign here,' (Clinton) said."
Bill Clinton could have cited any number of other Democrats who have run good campaigns in South Carolina over the decades, but that would not have furthered what many fellow Democrats bitterly call the Clinton campaign's strategy - implemented by, among others, Billy Shaheen, Bob Kerrey, Andrew Young, Robert Johnson and Bill and Hillary Clinton - of racially polarizing the race for the Democratic nomination.
Barack Obama wound up winning 78% of the votes of African Americans (who made up more than 50% of the Democratic turnout) but just 25% of the white vote.
Bob Beckel, who came up with Walter Mondale's "Where's the beef?" line in 1984, says winning one quarter of the white vote is not so bad, since South Carolina was a three-way race. But there is little indication that the 40% of white voters who went for John Edwards would have opted for Obama had Edwards not run. And there is every indication that Hillary Clinton is now firming up her support among white women (particularly older and lower-income white women) and Hispanics, who chose her overwhelmingly in Nevada and who may hold the key in such states as California, New York, New Jersey and Florida.
But wait a minute - Florida, which votes on Tuesday, doesn't count for Democrats, since the party stripped it of convention delegates after Florida moved up its primary. And in deference to the party, all three candidates pledged not to campaign in Florida. But Hillary Clinton is now calling for Florida's delegates to be reinstated. Obama calls that "pandering." Still, an expected win in Florida would give Clinton momentum going into Super Tuesday February 5.
Iowa, where Obama won a stunning plurality of white voters running as a candidate who transcended the old racial divide, now seems a million miles away. Maybe Democrats ultimately would have rejected Obama because they came to believe he lacks experience or sufficiently specific policy proposals or a realistic view of the war. But for now it looks like many voters are rejecting Obama because they see what Bill Clinton wants them to see - Jesse Jackson.
And maybe that's payback. Reverend Jackson said of Bill Clinton in 1992, as quoted in The New York Times: "There is nothing this man won't do. He is immune to shame. Move past all the nice posturing and get really down in there in him, you find absolutely nothing . . . nothing but an appetite."