The first thing to know about me is that I am a lifelong Democrat. I have voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1976, when I was first eligible to do so.
Furthermore, in 1984, I was a new assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and on Oct. 12th of that year, I was among a crowd of 50,000 or more who came out on a cold, but clear morning to cheer Geraldine Ferraro on the steps of the Wisconsin State Capitol the morning after her historic vice-presidential debate with George H. W. Bush (then Ronald Reagan's running mate or "41" as he is now known in the Bush family).
I note all of this to say that both Hillary Clinton and Geraldine Ferraro have gone too far. Should Clinton somehow steal the nomination from Barack Obama as a result of the fear-mongering, racial politics she has decided to play, then 2008 will be the first year I do not vote for the Democratic presidential nominee. And I am not alone.
I have been casually polling friends and family members on Clinton's tactics, and everyone is stunned. Of the roughly 20 or so folks I have asked about it, only one expressed a readiness to stand by Clinton should she some how get the nomination.
Of course, there is nothing "representative" about this random sample of acquaintances, though the group is quite multi-ethnic — black, white, Latino, and Asian. But hearing their reactions reassured me that my own sense of complete outrage is warranted.
A lifelong politician who cannot see the greater societal harm caused by his/her tactics does not belong in the White House. I do not vote for people who employ the worst race-baiting campaign tactics, whether they label themselves as Republicans or Democrats.
The one good friend who would stand by Hillary does so reluctantly, but says foreign policy and the Supreme Court are too important. One must vote for the Democratic nominee no matter what, the friend reasoned. I used to buy this line. But from the "fairy tale," to the "red phone," and now to Ferraro's bitterly divisive remarks, a line has been crossed for me, and I suspect others like me.
The House and the Senate are adequate firewalls for me regarding the Supreme Court and foreign policy matters. Besides, Clinton's record on the foreign policy front, namely with respect to Iraq, is not at all encouraging (if marginally better than McCain's).
I simply will not be part of an electoral coalition in which people like me are openly disrespected and where a deeply problematic American culture of anti-black prejudice is played as if it were a perfectly legitimate political tool.
As I tried to explain to the one friend who would stick with Hillary, I voted Green Party for the first and only time in my life when Kathleen Brown Rice became the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in California in 1994. She agreed with the Republican Pete Wilson on everything, including his race-baiting anti-immigrant stands, so I parted company with her. She is history.
I also cheered in 2002 when Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend lost the Maryland Governor's race after showing enormous disrespect to black elected officials and voters in the state during her campaign. I applauded, as well, when progressive Blacks and Latinos finally made it clear to Mark Green (Mark who?) that despite his assumptions, he was not going to be elected mayor of New York in 2001 if he ignored or disrespected them.
Dismissing Ferraro from the campaign is a start. But at this point doing so is insufficient to undo the damage to her standing and to the Democratic coalition that Clinton's tactics are causing. Her path out of this is unclear to me, but late and half-hearted apologies will not do. Not for this one. Not by a long shot.
Political legacies are interesting things. Rice, Townsend, and Green are now political has-beens. If Hillary Clinton continues to pursue her polarizing strategy the result may be not merely a losing campaign, but a tarnished political legacy as well.
Lawrence Bobo is the W. E. B. Du Bois Professor of Sociology and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University.