Over the weekend, BET founder Robert Johnson went to bat for the Clintons against Sen. Barack Obama, and made an openly veiled swipe at Obama’s past drug use. Confronted with the second Clinton ally to play the drug card, Johnson and the Clinton camp have mounted the absurd defense that Johnson was actually referring to Obama’s community activist career. Bill Clinton himself reacted to the fracas on Roland Martin’s radio show earlier today. This segment starts off with Johnson’s comment, then CNN’s John Roberts interviews Martin about how the comment is playing, then moves to Clinton’s defense and wraps up with Martin’s reaction and finishes with a replay of Johnson’s comments. It’s beyond obvious that Johnson is talking about the drug issue, not community activism.

BET’s Robert Johnson is an extremely successful entrepreneur but he’s perhaps not the best black spokesman that the Clintons could find to take on Barack Obama. It’s an open secret in the broadcasting industry that BET’s hiring and employment practices are less than ideal. Black employees have long been expected to accept lower wages than the industry standard in exchange for the privilege of working for Johnson’s network. And the network itself has been known to air exploitative programming and videos. To the latter, one could argue that that’s what the audience wants, and one would have a point, and BET certainly isn’t alone in airing exploitative programming. To the former, I’ve known people who worked at BET. Substandard wages and longer hours weren’t what the network’s employees wanted, but it’s what they got.

Update: Michelle noticed another swipe that Johnson took at Obama.

It’s surely a sign of near fatal weakness that neither the Clinton nor Obama campaign senses that they can win without resorting to rank identity politics, as both are doing against each other now. Either that, or it’s just who Democrats are and what they do. Or a combination of both. Either way, it’s a preview of things to come in the general election. No matter which one ends up being the nominee, the prospects of this November’s election being a “healing” one are evaporating by the minute. It’s going to be ugly, divisive and nasty.