The first man | Arkansas Blog

The first man

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Joe Conason brings a balanced outlook to Bill Clinton's campaigning in recent days and his impact on Hillary.

By comparing Mr. Obama’s huge win to earlier victories by Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988, he was making a factual point that could hardly be denied. Both Mr. Obama and Mr. Jackson are black men who benefited from the dominance of African-American voters in that state’s Democratic primary.

In some circumstances, Mr. Clinton’s statement would have been heard as harmless. After all, The Nation magazine dubbed South Carolina “the black primary” on its cover not long ago, and no one took offense. In the sensitive atmosphere of this primary season, however, when every utterance from either Clinton will be twisted and turned so easily, he should have realized that any such comparison would be heard as a “dog whistle” inviting white backlash.

Cynics have joked that Mr. Clinton was seeking to harm rather than help his wife’s campaign, while others have warned against his will to power (and the constitutional issues that might raise in a second Clinton administration). More likely he believes that his wife is the best candidate—and that he is deeply irritated by the press bias against her and for her current adversary. But if she doesn’t control him, then he will undo her, no matter what he intends.

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