January 23, 2008


by Charles Bierbauer

CNN got its priorities right. The Democratic candidates’ last debate before the South Carolina primary focused first on the economy. It’s presumptuous, but I’d like to think Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have agreed. Even though the debate took place on Martin Luther King Day.

Dr. King’s March on Washington “was for jobs as well as justice,” Barack Obama reminded. The economy is “the #1 issue,” Hillary Clinton declared.

The first hour of Monday’s debate in Myrtle Beach provided some detail as to how the Democrats would deal with the current sub-prime mortgage crisis, the high cost of energy and the prospect of rebates, universal health care. If I heard Senator Clinton correctly, she said, “my health care covers everyone.”

There was, at times, more heat than light as Clinton and Obama aggressively challenged each other’s past voting records and current promises. “This kind of squabbling,” John Edwards chastised his competitors, “how many children is this going to get health care? How many people are going to get an education from this? How many kids are going to be able to go to college because of this?”

Earlier in the day, the three candidates had spoken at the King Day at the Dome rally at the South Carolina State House in Columbia. If the candidates could see past the waving Obama, Clinton and Edwards signs—there were some of each—they might have spotted signs that read “Ed in ‘08” (that’s Ed as in education) and buttons that warned “I’m a health care voter.”

At some point in the day, each candidate made a point of decrying the state of education in South Carolina’s now infamous “Corridor of Shame.” These are rundown schools in the old cotton belt in the eastern part of the state running from Dillon to Florence to Orangeburg. Those school districts, heavily African-American, unsuccessfully sued the state, contending the state had not even met the legislatively mandated “minimally adequate education.”

Clinton said she had seen the “mold and the holes where the rodents come in.” Obama called for turning it into a “corridor of opportunity.” Edwards suggested a “corridor of hope.” Having our state in the political spotlight also means having the spotlight shine in our dark corners.

Monday’s debate, co-sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, turned to the legacy of Dr. King in its second hour. It provided moments of passion, Edwards repeatedly trying to demonstrate that his mission of “ending poverty” is in lockstep with King’s mission. Moments of differentiation: Obama, the first African-American candidate with a serious chance of being nominated and elected; Clinton, the first female candidate similarly having the potential of winning the presidency; Edwards, for all his passion and southern roots still looking like all past candidates—“it’s amazing now that being the white male….”

And there were moments of blithe amusement created by this year’s unique circumstances. Asked about author Toni Morrison’s assertion that Bill Clinton was the “first black president,” Obama acknowledged the former president’s “affinity with the African-American community.” But Obama added he would have to “investigate more of Bill’s dancing abilities…before I accurately judge whether he was in fact a brother.”

Is the quest for South Carolina’s primary votes about race? Or is it about appealing to voters of all races? On the surface, it’s about appealing to voters regardless of race. Undeniably, the candidates want to capitalize on voters identifying with an African-American, a woman or a fellow southerner.

But none of the Democrats is campaigning with the notion that is enough.
To paraphrase Dr. King, the voters’ decision rests on the character of the candidates’ campaign, not the color of their skin, their gender, their place of birth…or their dancing ability.


Charles Bierbauer covered five presidential elections from 1984 to 2000 for CNN. He is now Dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina, though the views here are his own and not those of the university. Bierbauer is senior contributing editor and a consultant to



3 Responses to “CHARACTER, NOT COLOR”

  1. GEri Pautler Says:

    Character (and I don’t mean one who acts or protrays different personalities and belongs in Hollywood), should be one of the most important factors when selecting our government representatives. Good traits should be Morally upright,pattern of good behavior,honesty,truthful and no arecord of deceitfulness and lies.
    A person who is willing to help others with their problems

  2. Richard Shealy Says:

    I hope people will remember the problems of Bill Clinton’s administration and not vote to have them in the White House again. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me! Hillary and Bill are the modern day, Bonnie and Clyde. They will look you in the eye and rob you blind. They are about themselves and care only for themselves. Remember: Travel Gate, File Gate, Monica, the trashing of the White House, renting rooms at the White House for fees, taking money from Chinese in exchange for technical information. These people are crooks and do not deserve to be back in the White House stabbing you in the back. She is the original witch from the north. A coldblood, diabotacle liar. Everything rolls off her back. Nothing sticks to her. They can write their memoirs, but cannot remember the day before yesterday about some illegal act they have performed. They are experts in smoke and mirrors. They have CRS disease when they are confronted with their lies and acts. I ask you. DO NOT PUT THESE CROOKS BACK IN THE WHITE HOUSE!!

  3. Jim Corbett Says:

    I wonder which of the three candidates urged their biggest contributors in SC to move their business – or just set up a branch office – in the “corridor of shame” to provide jobs and spur the economy? In our global economy, why do the Democrats always have to live and work in the “in” places like big cities such as New York? Why in South Carolina live only in Columbia or Charleston? Can’t they telecommute from Dillon, Bennettsville, Orangeburg, Kingstree, Manning? How about just live near Santee Lake? That’s a real nice place.

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