Lanny Davis’ claim that it’s hard to criticize Barack Obama without being accused of playing the race card seems to me to be pretty typical of the myopia of the Clinton campaign. I’ve never heard anyone allege that Hillary Clinton’s criticisms of Obama’s health care plan involved a “race card.” Nor have I heard her criticisms of his support for the 2005 energy bill describe in such a way. Nor have I heard the general idea that she has more political experience dealing with the right-wing attack machine described that way. What’s more, in the campaign I watched Clinton’s campaign was actually doing pretty well with those criticisms and then wound up running off the rails later.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of other things the Clinton campaign could have said that would have been totally nonracial. Their problem is that on a lot of important issues where there seems to be a contrast, they didn’t really want to defend their position. Clinton could have said that Obama’s opposition to the 2002 AUMF for Iraq illustrated that he has dangerous left-wing opinions about national security issues. She could have said that, yes, the Clinton administration backed NAFTA and rightly so. But they didn’t want to do that stuff, because they thought it would have left them on the wrong side of public opinion. Rather than try to persuade people of the merits of their case, they tried to deny that there was a disagreement. But that is what made it hard for Clinton to attack Obama — outside of health care, she didn’t really want to draw issue contrasts, and that left her without a great deal to say.