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Hillary in Selma - Take II

Thanks to Drudge, Hillary Clinton received a good heap of derision Monday for the phony Southern accent she put on over the weekend in Selma. But my recollection from watching her speech is that she wasn't faking an accent but doing a very awkward and poor reading, in character, of a passage written by someone else. (UPDATE: I see Greg Sargent has the video and transcript of the relevant portion of Hillary's speech. She was reading a freedom hymn by James Cleveland called "I Don't Feel No Ways Tired").

So, yes, Hillary is awkward and oftentimes inauthentic, but she got a bum rap this week. In fact, there were cheers in the audience during her rendition. Incidentally, I haven't seen any remarks about Barack Obama's performance in Selma, where he slipped quite noticeably into the style and cadence of a Southern black preacher, which is very different from how he speaks on an everyday basis. He obviously got away it while Hillary was taken to task.

All of that is really an aside from the main point, however, which is about the art of pandering. All politicians pander, and some are much better at it than others. Obama is particularly good at pandering, in part because he's skilled enough to not look obvious while doing it, but also because he does a very deft job of mixing in some uncomfortable truths (albeit with a very soft edge) to different groups while in the process of telling them things they want to hear. He did it on Sunday in Selma when he transitioned into a Bill Cosby-esque riff on personal responsibility.

Hillary, on the other hand, is a terrible panderer. To her credit, she's resisted pandering to the antiwar base over her Iraq vote so far, but when Hillary decides to go for the pander, she's blatant, ham-handed, and over the top about it - especially when it comes to African-Americans.

Selma provided another perfect example. Here's a clip of Hillary telling her African-American audience on Sunday that their right to vote in America in 2007 is "under siege:"

Like the plantation remark she made on MLK Day in 2006, this is needlessly dramatic as well as a gross distortion of the truth.

Voting rights is an issue in the black community, and it's something that Obama has addressed (see here and here). But I think it's very telling that on Sunday, at such a historic and widely covered event, Obama made his points with the black community in a forward looking way by saying things like African-Americans have come 90% of the way in the fight for equality but still have 10% left to go, and that "we should never deny that it's gotten better. But we shouldn't forget that better is not good enough."

In other words, Obama tried to inspire as opposed to prey on fear. He didn't go for the cheap, easy, and over the top. Hillary, on the other hand, simply couldn't help herself.