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Sunday 16 March 2008

Democrat race to get dirtier

While Ireland has made its mark, issues of gender and ethnicity will light the blue touchpaper, says Ruth Dudley Edwards

First, Hillary told the world she helped bring peace to Northern Ireland. That's a "wee bit silly", said David Trimble. "Being a cheerleader for something is slightly different from being a principal player," he noted.

Hillary's team were quickly on the job, and a statement from an ever-obliging John Hume went on her official website to the effect that "she played a positive role for over a decade in helping to bring peace to Northern Ireland". Women and a chunk of Irish-America sided with Hillary and raised the stakes.

"I wasn't sitting at the negotiating table, but the role I played was instrumental," Hillary explained, while her campaign chairman told CNN: "We would not have peace today had it not been for Hillary's hard work in Northern Ireland".

Bad call, Hillary. Her overblown claims annoyed two men who felt it necessary to put the record straight. Connall McDevitt, who was on the SDLP team that helped negotiate the Good Friday Agreement and who was Hume's admirer and spokesman, said there was no contact whatsoever with Hillary during those negotiations, though afterwards "in a classic women politicky sort of way, I think she was active". Worse was the testimony of Greg Craig, assistant special counsel and a senior foreign policy advisor to President Bill Clinton and now a senior adviser to Barack Obama. Clinton had "overstated, if not grossly exaggerated, the nature of her experience", he said.It was presumptuous of her to take credit away from the people who really did bring peace. In his book about the peace process, he pointed out, George Mitchell never mentioned Hillary.

For good measure, Craig threw in Clinton's claims that she negotiated the opening of the borders in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, noting that she had arrived there days after that feat had been achieved She was inflating her resume, said Craig: "misleading the public on the nature of her experience".

That is all pretty satisfying for the Obama campaign, but there's plenty more going on: Samantha Power, Geraldine Ferraro and the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, for instance.

An impassioned human-rights activist, Pulitzer prize-winner, journalist and Harvard professor, Irish-born Power had to resign as a senior foreign policy adviser to Obama after she called Hillary a monster in an off-the-cuff remark to a British journalist in London, where she was promoting her new book.

Although she immediately retracted the comments as 'off the record', the story broke and her fate was sealed. "These comments do not reflect my feelings about Senator Clinton, whose leadership and public service I have long admired," said Power unconvincinglyas she headed off-stage and for the moment back to obscurity, as she resigned her post.

Hillary's feminist supporters were furious for they believe all women should support Hillarybecause she is a woman. They include black women in this, because for some reason it's OK to support someone because of their gender, but not their race. It is definitely unhelpful to Obama when the occasional tactless black calls on blacks to support him for being black (even though he's half-white), although it's very helpful to Hillary, who wants Obama marginalised as a black candidate.

A gender-race contest is a winner for Hillary, as there are lots more women electors than blacks. So though Obama's great attraction is that he seeks to transcend racial divisions, the Clinton campaign needs the electorate to focus on his blackness. Bill Clinton was the first Hillary supporter to try to pigeonhole Obama as a black candidate by comparing him to Jesse Jackson, who mostly frightens whites.

Then Geraldine Ferraro, the former Democratic vice-presidential candidate, helpfully explained that Obama was lucky to be black because, if he were white or a woman, he wouldn't have got where he was. Forced to resign from Hillary's campaign by the ensuing storm, she accused the opposing camp of attacking her because she was white, although Obama merely decried Ferraro's remarks as "ridiculous and wrongheaded". Such contemptible tactics are helping to polarise the electorate. In Mississippi, Obama won 92 per cent of the African-American vote and Hillary almost 75 per cent of whites. In addition to Clintonians leaking pictures of Obama in tribal gear, and the stressing of his Muslim middle name, Hussein, he has the embarrassment caused by circulation of footage of sermons by Obama's pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

In one clip, Wright describes 9/11 as retribution for the bombing of Hiroshima, apartheid and American policy in the Middle East; in another, he says Hillary couldn't know what it was like to be black in a culture controlled by "rich white people". "Hillary ain't never been called a nigger," he thunders, while a third sermon compares Obama to Jesus, before Wright cries, "God damn America". Obama's condemnation of these "inflammatory and appalling remarks", which he never heard from the pulpit, will not make them go away. Things can only get dirtier.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards