Barack Obama’s victory speech in South Carolina last night was a visual and rhetorical masterpiece. His gaze literally fixed on some imaginary horizon, his chin raised as if to clear the shoulder-high muck of the past few weeks, the senator spoke of a newly united electorate with a confidence that suggested history in real-time. Obama’s vision of a pluralistic America with a shared will manages to rouse beyond the expected levels of mushy melting-pot sentiment. The senator constructs his unity dream from a real world blueprint, creating the most important effect for any running politician: you want to believe him.
Whether you bought this practical utopianism or you didn’t, the speech was a poetic triumph of the grand over the petty. Without ever saying their names, Obama shamed the Clintons. His high road was so elevated that Bill and Hillary’s malignant sniping and race-tactics seemed unreal by comparison. He made fellowship shine where division repulses, and redefined effortless in the process.
So, what does it mean that Bill Clinton answered ABC News’ David Wright’s question about Obama’s win with: “Jesse Jackson won South Carolina in ’84 and ’88. Jackson ran a good campaign. And Obama ran a good campaign here”? We know the divide-and-conquer approach at work here. If the Clintons can split the vote down black-white lines, Hillary will win through sheer mathematics, as white voters outnumber their black counterparts. But the Clintons have been so thoroughly exposed (and seemingly punished) for exploiting race, one would think Bill would attempt to cloak this strategy. The fact that he didn’t means one of two things: either the Clintons are so cocooned from public sentiment that they exist in a reality of their own making, or they’ve finally admitted that venom is their medium and embraced it without apology. That’s the real Clinton choice. Both options are equally chilling.