Bill Clinton and the Soundbyte

I was talking with my sister about Bill Clinton’s Jesse Jackson comment. For your reference, here it is:

Sure, there’s the “racial politics” that are so ugly. That’s pretty clear, and I think that Clinton got appropriately slammed for that.

I think that it’s possible that Clinton’s Jackson comment was the first major gaffe of this whole campaign, from any candidate (or candidate spouse) since this little gem. (I’m having trouble embedding this, but I think you’ll like this little trip down campaign ’08 memory lane…)

But what I really object to is Bill Clinton’s body language as he trots out this little fact. He’s like a snotty southern boy pulling out a “fact” and sorta saying: “what? it’s true, right? I mean, all I’m saying is that Jesse Jackson won in 84 and 88. I mean, jeez, I said he ran a good campaign…”

The clip up there is at one angle – not actually the angle I remembered from the coverage. Strangely, there is not a single YouTube clip (or Brightcove, or anything I could find) that had the angle I remembered, which demonstrated the body language I’m talking about.

Finally, I found the angle I remembered – but in the context of the whole interview. So I sat down to watch it. All 11 minutes of it. Now, this is interesting. It’s not that the full interview somehow explains away Clinton’s nasty remark. It doesn’t. But I encourage you to check it out, because the interviewers are asking pretty tough questions.

For example,

1:30 Mr. President, some people have accused you of race baiting, how do you respond.

1:45 He says, I don’t have to defend myself on civil rights.

at 2:15 he says “I’m not taking the bait today” in reference to some mudslinging by Kerry.

And it’s only at 2:35 he gets the “what does it say about Barack Obama that it takes two of you to beat him” question. And he says, “that’s just a bait too. Jesse Jackson won twice, in ’84 and ’88”

And the interview keeps going. for another 8 minutes. Clinton admits that he was going too far in New Hampshire. He’s going to take it easy from now on. He is working for Hillary because he thinks she’ll make the best president, etc…

Now the soundbyte is shocking. But what’s the lesson of the full interview? They were talking about race politics! They were ALREADY confronting clinton about a perceived racism in his South Carolina campaign. I feel like he was storing up the Jesse Jackson reference – almost as if it had occurred to him while he was on the pot the other night, and he had kind of chuckled to himself about it. It’s almost like the logic that was going on in Clinton’s mind went something like this –

Race politics? Naw, there’s no race politics here. Would Jesse Jackson have won a primary in a racist state? No…

I’m not sure I’m hitting this on the head. Someone help me, here – I don’t think this was a “calculated” attack on Obama, because the tiniest bit of calculation would have probably predicted that comparing Obama’s campaign with Jesse Jackson’s would be perceived as trying to minimize Obama’s campaign by calling it black. So I think that it sorta slipped out. It’s a what the hell was he thinking he was doing moment.


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