Bait and Switch

Hillary Clinton released a new Web video today that is full of testimonials from voters about making the switch from Barack Obama and John Edwards to Clinton. The video is a response to an Obama clip showing a neighbor of Tom Vilsack, former Iowa governor and co-chair of Clinton’s campaign, switching allegiances from Hillary to Barack.

In Clinton’s video, a former Obama supporter named Todd Eaton looks uncomfortable as he explains why he once supported the Illinois senator:

I guess my initial attraction to Barack Obama was, um, his differences as far as who’s run for president in the past. Uh, and, uh, he’s a very dynamic speaker if you’ve ever heard him speak.

While he’s saying this, his eyebrow goes crazy, his speech gets more halted, and he assumes a coy grin. I may be reading into this too closely, but it looks like he’s afraid of saying something terribly un-PC—that he initially supported Barack Obama because he’s black. That’s the implication, at least. (Mind you, Hillary Clinton also has “differences as far as who’s run for president in the past.”)

Eaton then seems to catch himself by saying he was wooed by Obama because he is a “dynamic speaker.” Is dynamic the new articulate

Obviously, the racial subtext is nothing new. There have been numerous stories questioning whether Obama appeals more to white or black voters since he began his presidential campaign. (People have speculated about this as far back as his Senate run ). Some thought Obama’s biracial background would help court both demographics, while others said Obama wasn’t black enough . But this debate usually stayed in the chattering class and off the campaign trail.

Clinton’s press office could not be reached for comment. But I think I already know what they’ll say—that it’s a straightforward ad without a hint of racial subtext. In the past week, though , Clinton’s camp has taken a troubling turn towards racially motivated politics. First, a former campaign chair stepped down because he questioned whether Obama sold drugs in his youth. Then yesterday former Sen. Bob Kerrey questioned whether Obama went to a “secular madrasa.” After those incidents, they should have expected this video to be interpreted through a racial lens.