The old saying holds that in politics you don't have to win, you just have to not lose. But what the saying doesn't tell you is that sometimes what looks like victory is actually a step backward. And that will be the case for black folk should Hillary Clinton win the Democratic Party nomination and the presidency.
It was clear from the first vague rumblings of her presidential ambitions that H.C. would be the definitive establishment candidate. Her husband is likely the most powerful individual in the Democratic Party and his charisma, cache and connections are largely responsible for the aura of inevitability that surrounded her campaign early on.
Sen. Barack Obama's stunning Iowa and South Carolina victories, along with his strong showings during the other primaries, neutralized Clinton's argument that she was the most electable candidate. But, she has another unspoken advantage: The Democratic Party nominating system includes 800 "super-delegates" who can, theoretically, vote however they choose but are most likely to back the candidate most favored by the party establishment. If it comes down to the super-delegates deciding the nominee and Clinton emerges victorious, you can count on the 2008 Democratic Convention looking a whole lot like the one in 1968.
The Clintons have thus far run one of the most underhanded and bitter political campaigns in recent history. And while there is no reason to suspect that they are racist, they are clearly willing to play upon the sympathies of whites who are—which is probably worse. This was evident by the twin "accidents" in which Clinton staff member Billy Shaheen and that pillar of the booty-shake community BET founder Bob Johnson attacked Sen. Obama for his youthful dalliances with drugs. Any lingering doubt about who they were playing to was erased when Bill Clinton essentially dismissed Obama's South Carolina victory by comparing it to Jesse Jackson's wins there in 1984 and 1988.
Apparently none of the high-profile black leaders who are backing Hillary Clinton have been able to prohibit the kind of cynical race hustling that marked the South Carolina primary. (This recalls the old saying that the problem is not that black leaders so often sell out, but that their asking price is so pitifully low.)
But in the wake of the Sister Souljah episode (not to mention Bill Clinton's stiff-arming of his black nominee for the Justice Department (Lani Guinier) and his short-lived Surgeon General (Jocelyn Elders) it must appear that there is nothing the black community won't forgive you for provided you show up at one of our churches and hum a spiritual every so often. As a matter of principle, no candidate, no matter how deep their alleged ties to the black community, should be allowed to race-bait a black politician and still receive the majority of our vote.
All this points to one clear – if unlikely – conclusion: if Hillary Clinton receives the Democratic Party nomination, African Americans should consider voting for John McCain. But before you fix your lips to call me a sellout consider this: Carter G. Woodson once remarked that any race that consistently gives its vote to one political party is asking to be taken advantage of.
If politics is the art of advancing one's interests, the 2008 election, and the Clinton campaign in particular, indicate that the Democratic Party has become so cavalier with black folk that our interests are nearly invisible. In short, South Carolina (not to mention that LBJ did more than MLK comment) revealed that the Clintons operate on the presumption that they can alienate black voters and still rely upon our support in the general election.
At present no reasonable third party candidate has emerged (unless you count Cynthia McKinney, the fisticuff-prone Green Party candidate who might take "fighting for your rights" literally.) So a vote for McCain would be a short-term loss that would facilitate a long-term win.
With the congressional balance tilting in favor of Democrats, McCain would have a hard time getting reactionary legislation passed or right-wing Supreme Court nominees approved (not that he is a darling of the GOP right-wing anyway.) He has made a big show of his support for remaining in Iraq but truthfully no one will be able to guarantee a quick withdrawal from the region. And to his credit, McCain clearly opposed the Bush Administration's mad attempts to justify torture and broke with the right-wing on immigration reform.
More importantly, John McCain would be 72 by the time he took office, and 76 in 2012. Given the fact that he is a divisive figure in the GOP — and that he would turn 76 during the 2012 campaign — it is likely that he would face a strong challenge from within the party during the next election cycle. From the outset, McCain's candidacy has had the look of a one-termer.
I am a lifelong registered independent, operating on the belief that the Democratic Party should at least have to work for our support. If even 20 percent of the black vote went to McCain it would send a clear message to the Democrats that our days of being a cheap date are over.
William Jelani Cobb is associate professor of history at Spelman College and author of "The Devil & Dave Chappelle and Other Essays." His blog, "The Delegate," appeared on The Root last week.