This is a sad Martin Luther King Day for American politics, thanks to Hillary Clinton’s Presidential Campaign.

President Clinton was confronted today by Roland Martin, a black radio host and CNN contributor, for the racially charged attack against Barack Obama at a Hillary Clinton event this weekend. The Clinton Campaign has repeatedly attacked Obama, through surrogates and supporters tasked with introducing Hillary Clinton at events, so Martin pressed President Clinton on his claim that the latest attacks from Bob Johnson were not "part of any planned strategy." Referring to the innuendo about Obama’s prior admitted drug use, Martin said:

When you listen to that tone and the inflection, he was not talking about community organizing. It seemed to be very clear what he was implying.

 

The former president continued to defend the remark, saying "nobody knew" it was coming. (Nobody apologized for it, either.) Yet as all political observers know, presidential campaigns carefully select and coach every supporter who introduces the candidate at major events. Just last week, in fact, a supporter introduced Hillary Clinton by referencing political assassinations and Barack Obama, (which the Clinton campaign had to disavow). And while Johnson’s drug remarks are garnering the most attention — he was forced to issue a statement explaining them — he also launched another racially charged attack, saying Obama was a "reasonable, likable" figure like "Sidney Poitier [in] Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner." Jack and Jill Politics, a blog offering a "Black Bourgeoisie perspective on American politics," breaks down the attack in an excellent post today, contending that "the point of that insult is that Obama is a House Negro, a sellout." The post quotes James Baldwin’s analysis of how the movie presents a "black doctor" succeeding in American life by promising not to "defile" the white society, and then elaborates:

 

This is a character who has been written from the perspective of being as inoffensive to white viewers as possible–so much so that he is willing to leave the hemisphere in order to prevent white people from feeling uncomfortable about his marriage to a white woman. […] these are more than just accusations that Obama [] is a sellout … While it is currently black Clinton surrogates who are doing the heavy lifting, eventually the "Obama is a sellout" meme will become so common that white people will have no problem making the same kind of assertions. Obama’s run for president in itself will become a kind of selling out; a metaphor for his ambition trumping his commitment to the community.

 

Read the whole thing. The New York Times’ Matt Bai raises related concerns in a new column this afternoon, pressing the Clintons to renounce the "latest turn into ugliness." He opines:

It must be a kind of nightmare for both Clintons to be running, at this moment, against a talented black man, to be caught in an existential choice between losing their mythical status in the black community or possibly losing to a candidate they feel certain does not deserve to win.

 

Maybe. But there’s a third "choice," too. Team Clinton could continue these despicable campaign tactics, alienating not only blacks, but a wide range of Democratic voters who value equality, and still lose the nomination along the way.