Barack Obama didn’t settle for a mere rout in South Carolina. After a landslide victory over Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Illinois senator took a brash, brutal victory lap that he hopes will define her, her husband, and their his-and-hers candidacy in the days ahead.
And he was just getting started.
“The cynics who believed that what began in the snows of Iowa was just an illusion were told a different story by the good people of South Carolina,” Obama said to a huge crowd’s first cheers.
“Just an illusion” — do you think, perhaps, he was referring to Bill Clinton’s claim that aspects of the Obama candidacy was “a fairly tale”? That criticism, leveled by the former president during the New Hampshire campaign, angered many in the black community who saw it as dismissive of the Obama candidacy in general.
It was dismissive, even insulting. So was Bill Clinton’s prediction that his wife would lose because blacks vote for blacks. So were the remarks by Clinton surrogates about Obama’s drug use as a youth (self-disclosed), his Muslim relatives (he’s a Christian) and his middle name (Hussein).
Eight of every 10 black South Carolina voters supported Obama on Saturday, a sign that the Clintons paid a steep price for trying to marginalize Obama as a minority candidate. Their effort may still work; Obama won just a quarter of the white vote in South Carolina, and white voters dominate most of the states yet to hold elections.
But, for one night at least, racial politics got marginalized.
“In nine days,” Obama continued, “nearly half the nation will have the chance to join us in saying that we are tired of business-as-usual in Washington, we are hungry for change, and we are ready to believe again.”
“Believe again” — now who’s talking about fairy tales?
The supporters around him — at least those in range of the television cameras — were mostly white and cheering as Obama seemed to hold out an olive branch to his “fierce competitors, worthy of respect.” But then, without mentioning Clinton by name, he started reading the indictment against her.
STATUS QUO: “We are looking for more than just a change of party in the White House. We’re looking to fundamentally change the status quo in Washington — a status quo that extends beyond any particular party.”
’90s-STYLE POLITICS: “And right now, that status quo is fighting back with everything it’s got; with the same old tactics that divide and distract us … , ”
TAINTED: “We are up against the belief that it’s OK for lobbyists to dominate our government … .”
DISHONEST: “We know that real leadership is about candor, and judgment, and the ability to rally Americans from all walks of life around a common purpose — a higher purpose.”
PARTISAN: “It’s the kind of partisanship where you’re not even allowed to say that a Republican had an idea — even if it’s one you never agreed with.”
RUTHLESS: “We are up against the idea that it’s acceptable to say anything and do anything to win an election.”
He lashed out at people who think that young voters are apathetic, that Republicans won’t vote for a Democrat, and that the wealthy won’t help the poor. The last line was a jab at populist rival John Edwards, but Clinton was his target otherwise.
Finally, he turned against cynics who assume “that African-Americans can’t support the white candidate; whites can’t support the African-American candidate; blacks and Latinos can’t come together.”
Who was Obama talking about? The Clintons.
“The choice in this election is not between regions or religions or genders. It’s not about rich versus poor; young versus old; and it is not about black versus white. It’s about the past versus the future.”
Who was he talking about? The Clintons.
“We know that this is exactly what’s wrong with our politics; this is why people don’t believe what their leaders say anymore; this is why they tune out,” Obama said. “And this election is our chance to give the American people a reason to believe again.”
A reason to believe — in fairy tales, maybe?
Ron Fournier has covered politics for The Associated Press for nearly 20 years.