Blacks Turning on Clintons?
Several prominent black leaders are assailing Bill and Hillary Clinton for their use of racially insensitive language in their campaign against Barack Obama, Ben Smith reports for The Politico.
A series of comments from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, her husband and her supporters are spurring a racial backlash and adding a divisive edge to the presidential primary as the candidates head south to heavily African-American South Carolina.
The comments, which ranged from the New York senator appearing to diminish the role of Martin Luther King Jr. in the civil rights movement — an aide later said she misspoke — to Bill Clinton dismissing Sen. Barack Obama’s image in the media as a “fairy tale” — generated outrage on black radio, black blogs and cable television. And now they’ve drawn the attention of prominent African-American politicians.
“A cross-section of voters are alarmed at the tenor of some of these statements,” said Obama spokeswoman Candice Tolliver, who said that Clinton would have to decide whether she owed anyone an apology. “There’s a groundswell of reaction to these comments — and not just these latest comments but really a pattern, or a series of comments that we’ve heard for several months,” she said. “Folks are beginning to wonder: Is this really an isolated situation, or is there something bigger behind all of this?”
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., through a spokesman, used even stronger language. “Following Barack Obama’s victory in Iowa and historic voter turnout in New Hampshire, the cynics unfortunately have stepped up their efforts to decry his uplifting message of hope and fundamental change. “Regrettably, they have resorted to distasteful and condescending language that appeals to our fears rather than our hopes. I sincerely hope that they’ll turn away from such reactionary, disparaging rhetoric.”
The series of comments Clinton critics’ cite began in mid-December, when the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s New Hampshire campaign, Bill Shaheen, speculated about whether Obama had ever dealt drugs. In the final days of the New Hampshire campaign, however, the discomfort of some black observers intensified as Bill Clinton dismissed the contrast between Obama’s judgment on the war and Clinton’s as a “fairy tale” and spoke dismissively of his short time in the Senate. And the candidate herself, in an interview with Fox News, stressed the role of President Lyndon Johnson, over Martin Luther King Jr., in the civil rights movement.
“I would point to the fact that Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, when he was able to get through Congress something that President Kennedy was hopeful to do, the president before had not even tried, but it took a president to get it done,” she said, in response to a question about how her dismissive attitude toward Obama’s “false hopes” would have applied to the civil rights movement. “That dream became a reality, the power of that dream became real in people’s lives because we had a president who said we are going to do it and actually got it accomplished.”
An aide later said Clinton didn’t intend to diminish King, and later that day she went out of her way to stress his accomplishment and courage in leading a movement.
Then, when Obama lost New Hampshire, the first question on black media outlets like “The Tom Joyner Show” was whether white racism had defeated him, and when a Clinton supporter, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, said — though not directly in connection to Obama — that politicians can’t “shuck and jive” in early-primary states, it only added fuel to the fire.
“For him to go after Obama, using a ‘fairy tale,’ calling him as he did last week, it’s an insult. And I will tell you, as an African-American, I find his tone and his words to be very depressing,” Donna Brazile, a longtime Clinton ally who is neutral in this race, said on CNN earlier this week.
Asked in an e-mail from Politico about the situation Friday, she responded by sending over links to five cases in which the Clintons and their surrogates talked about Obama, along with a question:
“Is Clinton using a race-baiting strategy against Obama?”
Having watched for years as the Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons unleashed these type of attacks on Republicans for similarly innocuous comments, I must confess to a certain degree of schadenfreude here. And, frankly, the Clintons are Grade A race baiters in their own right, being past masters of stirring up black resentment of Republicans.
Still, this is ridiculous.
Bill Clinton’s “fairy tale” line has nothing whatsoever to do with race. Here’s a full clip of the comments:
He’s angrily rebutting the idea that Obama’s judgment on the Iraq War was superior to his wife’s and lamenting that the media has allowed that “fairy tale” to go unchallenged.
Similarly, it’s hard to look at Hillary’s rather inartful response to a question about MLK’s dream going away and see it as a dissing of King:
It’s inarguably true that it ultimately takes action on the part of political leaders, especially presidents, to make drastic changes in public policy. Surely, one shouldn’t have to qualify every statement made about King’s legacy with “of course he was a wonderful, wonderful man and the greatest leader our country has ever seen, and golly gee whiz he was wonderful.”
Cuomo’s “shuck and jive” comments are a classic case of unfortunate origins. The phrase undeniably has racist roots:
To shuck and jive” originally referred to the intentionally misleading words and actions that African-Americans would employ in order to deceive racist Euro-Americans in power, both during the period of slavery and afterwards. The expression was documented as being in wide usage in the 1920s, but may have originated much earlier.
It has been decades, though, since that connotation attached. Nowadays, it has the same colloquial use as “tap dance” or various other phrases used to connote an attempt to avoid giving straight answers to a question.
- Juliette Ochieng starts us off with a plea: “Fellow Americans, here’s a suggestion: how about we not fantasize about this country turning into Kenya or Pakistan or reverting to the 1968 version of the USA just yet.”
- Gun Toting Liberal wonders, in a post entitled “Nation’s First Two Black (Co) Presidents Feeling Backlash From Supporters Of Nation’s Potential Third Black President,” “[I]sn’t it a bit pretentious of the Senator from Illinois to jump on the “he/she/it’s not black enough” bandwagon after being victimized by it himself for months?”
- Jules Crittenden, “Given that Obama, if elected, would be the president with the least political, government and/or executive experience in living memory, and the competition is being told to shut up on the grounds of ‘equal opportunity,’ it’s almost like they’re trying to turn him into America’s first affirmative-action president.”
- Ann Althouse: “Obama supporters have a motivation to characterize things as racial that are not, and the Clinton campaign must be frustrated that it’s hard to attack Obama, who seems to be getting a free pass. But I don’t doubt that the Clintons will use whatever works for them. Insinuations — and even slip-ups — don’t work, however, when so many people are so ready to detect racial content.”
- Karl @ Protein Wisdom: “[I]t is tough to muster sympathy as those who stoked the fires of political correctness and identity politics get singed by the blowback.”
- Bithead: “Racism, or Sexism? Which will win the Democratic Nomination?”
- Jim Addison: “It seems to me someone predicted this contest would eventually involve charges of ‘racism’ or at least ‘insensitivity,’ but I can’t remember who it was . . .”
- Sister Toldjah: “I don’t feel one ounce of sympathy for the false implied allegations of racism against her, not after what she and her party have done over the years to advance the myth that conservatives are nothing but cold-hearted racists, a vicious tactic liberal Democrats like Hillary Clinton have used routinely for shameless political purposes.”
- Marc Ambinder: “One thing is certain: it’s tough for people to figure out how to talk about a black candidate, including the campaign of the black candidate himself.”
- Josh Marshall has an interesting essay on the difficulties of covering such an issue. Notably, “It’s genuinely unclear to me how much one side or the other is consciously pushing this, how much it’s escalated based in part on misunderstandings, or whether, in a somewhat related fashion, hyping journalistic accounts has given the engagement a life of its own.”
- Matt Stoller, though, thinks there’s much more to the charges than most of us credit: “There’s a kind of cultural racism and elitism that the boomer Clintonistas carry around with them.”
More reax at memeorandum.