You may remember that Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) was pained to stay neutral during the primary in the Palmetto State. Clyburn is the highest ranking African-American in the Democratic Party, and he pulls a lot of water. I don’t know anyone, even Republicans, that have a bad word to say about him.

When race first came up, Clyburn was in the Middle East. When he returned to the States, he tried to intervene with the Clintons and restore some peace and civility. Here he describes his efforts on the Charlie Rose Show.

But his initial efforts failed as the Clinton’s became increasingly focused on explaining away an impending loss in South Carolina. A week after the Charlie Rose interview things had gone from bad to worse. By the time he was interviewed by the Huffington Post, he had already asked Bill Clinton to ‘chill a little bit‘. He pushed back on what he considered unwarranted racialization.

“There are more white people supporting Obama than there are black,” he said, with a charge of emotion. “Now that’s a fact. Just look at the numbers. Look at New Hampshire. How many white votes and how many black votes did he get in New Hampshire? How many white votes and how many black votes did he get in Iowa? Now add that to the black votes in South Carolina. There are more white people supporting Obama than there are black people. Now that’s a fact.”

The populations of both Iowa, where Obama won, and New Hampshire, where he finished a close second, are both overwhelming white. Moreover, Clyburn added:

“Look at endorsements here in South Carolina… John Matthews, Robert Ford, Darrell Jackson, three black state senators. They are supporting Hillary Clinton. I haven’t seen a single black state senator come out for Obama. So is she the black candidate?”

Yet, he struggled to stay on the high road, even as he warned Bill Clinton about the damage he was doing to his reputation with the African-American community.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, the longtime South Carolina congressman would not, as a member of the Obama campaign has, go so far as to compare Clinton’s actions to that of Lee Atwater, the famed Republican dirty trickster. But he did allow the idea that the former president had sullied his image within Democratic circles.

“I think that may be true,” said Clyburn, the third ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives. “I mean, he is speaking out this way, taking hits on Obama. A lot of times these things happen. What you say may hurt the other guy but it also may hurt you.”

Mind you, this was all a long time ago, back before the Clintons sought to exploit Obama’s pastor’s more incendiary remarks and suggest that he can’t appeal to working-class white people in the general election. James Clyburn’s patience is now all worn out:

“Scurrilous” and “disingenuous” were among the words a top Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives used on Thursday to describe Hillary Clinton’s campaign tactics in her bid to defeat Barack Obama for their party’s presidential nomination.

House Democratic Whip James Clyburn, of South Carolina and the highest ranking black in Congress, also said he has heard speculation that Clinton is staying in the race only to try to derail Obama and pave the way for her to make another White House run in 2012.

“I heard something, the first time yesterday (in South Carolina), and I heard it on the (House) floor today, which is telling me there are African Americans who have reached the decision that the Clintons know that she can’t win this. But they’re hell-bound to make it impossible for Obama to win” in November, Clyburn told Reuters in an interview.

Ever the southern gentleman, Clyburn said:

“I don’t think she ought to drop out.”

But he added, “There’s a difference between dropping out and raising all this extraneous scurrilous stuff about the guy (Obama). Just run your campaign … you don’t have to drop out to be respectful of other people.”

It’s hard to describe how damaging it is to the Clintons’ long-term reputation to get repudiated like this by someone with Clyburn’s stature and civility. The only thing that would hurt more is if John Lewis were to say the same things. And John Lewis has already de-endorsed Clinton and thrown his weight behind Obama.

For Clyburn to openly suggest that Clinton is engaging in a strategy to throw the election to McCain implies that there is now an almost complete lack of good-will between the Clintons and the Congressional Black Caucus. Given the stellar regard with which the CBC held the Clintons prior to the onset of this nominating process, this fall from grace is staggering.

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