The Clintons, Black Folk and America - A Reckoning


cross-posted to Jack & Jill PoliticsI have been sitting on this post for two weeks. Much has already been said, but seeing Darryl Fears's article in the Washington Post has forced me to finally hit the publish button. The article begins:
For nearly two decades, Yvette Wider, an African American, adored Bill Clinton, once described by a famous black novelist as the nation's first black president.But now, after Clinton's "fairy tale" remark about Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in New Hampshire and a statement in South Carolina that Obama had put a political "hit job" on him, Wider said she feels she hardly knows the former president. "I was surprised to hear him make a comment like that, because I thought he understood our people better," said Wider, who said she will vote for Obama in Saturday's South Carolina primary. "It made me think he's been playing us all this time."Wider's sentiments are echoing across black America -- on blogs, Web chats and talk radio, where Clinton is being attacked as never before.
Finally.You see, I used to love Bill Clinton as well. I've met him on two occasions, once at my high school, the other at the White House when was enrolled in the Washington Association of Black Journalists teen training program. Clinton evoked all sorts of wonderful feelings in me. I assumed he was a great a president as most Democrats seemed to publicly think he was. But I was in high school during his first term and distracted by college during his second. I missed a lot, and over the past few years and especially months and most especially, weeks, I've come to a different view.I now start with a basic assumption that he was a good, but not great president. I used to long for the days of Clinton. No more. That longing could only exist when contrasted with President Brush-Clearer. But the low standards of subsequent administrations are no excuse to lionize the past and make it something it was not.Here's my timeline of The Clintons (yes, they are a "they" and deserve to be capitalized):Pre-Obama Conventional Wisdom - 1992 through 2006: Bill Clinton The Savior
  • Plays sax on Arsenio Hall
  • Isn't physically uncomfortable around black folks
  • Looks good in black church and can handle the pulpit. Claps on the beat.
  • Referred to affectionately as "the first black president"
  • Appoints prominent black folks to positions of power
  • Expands Earned Income Tax Credit
  • Presides over booming economy
  • Moves to Harlem. Which is about the whitest thing you can do in New York, but the rest of America doesn't know that.
  • Gets all statesmanly with global aids initiative and tsunami recovery goodness
Transition Period - January 2007 through January 2008: Cashing in on the Race Card
  • Civil Rights OGs back Hillary
  • Hillary Clinton has majority of black support in polls
  • Meme spreads of Obama's lack of black cred
  • Sharpton says "not a lot of black folks grew up in Hawaii"
  • Jesse Jackson says "Obama is acting white" with regard to Jena
  • Andrew Young says "Hillary Clinton is as black as Obama"
  • Shelby Steele publishes book, "Why Barack Obama Can't Win"
  • Obama wins Iowa Caucus, spilling hope-filled egg all over Steele
  • Baratunde aka Jack Turner begins his next book, "Why Shelby Steele Can't Write"
January 2008: The Ugly Comes Out
  • The Madrassa Emails
  • The MLK History Lesson
  • The Drug Dealer Comments
  • The Shucking and Jiving of BET's Bob Johnson
  • and dozens of other offenses including blaming all of this on Obama. (see: Clinton Attacks Obama Wiki )
Post Obama Relationship
  • Black folks realize they can have a real first black president. Why settle for a wack substitute
  • All folks, not just black, start to publicly dig into the past and challenge the assumptions of Bill's blackness and his greatness
Here's what they find.
  • The mass incarceration of black men, due largely to a failed "War on Drugs" which is as farcical as our current "War on Terror." In 1995 Bill Clinton had a chance to bring crack and cocaine drug sentencing into line. He did not. A generation of black men got their education in the prison industrial complex.
  • There was the deregulation of the banking industry under Treasury Secretary Rubin which created the incentives and lack of oversight that allows the current subprime crisis. Rubin came in from Wall Street and returned a hero.
  • There was the expansion of media consolidation, one of the most insidious attacks on our democracy. Media ownership. Communications licensing. All sold off to the most moneyed of interests.
  • There was the missed opportunity to set us on a path of a sane energy policy that would anticipate the coming supply crunch rather than wallow in the temporary glut of low prices. No energy efficiency. No investment in renewables. Just the digging of a deeper hole
  • (Update: I left this out but twas on my list). There was "welfare reform" which forced mothers into the workplace with nowhere near adequate health or child care options
  • There was the sitting by and watching millions of people get butchered in Rwanda
  • There was the set of trade deals that lowered our standards and helped gut America's ability to provide for itself, setting the stage for our current vulnerable position
I'm glad the ugly has come out. I'm glad Bill Clinton's face is glowing so brightly and so red; the better to see this campaign by. I'm glad Bill Clinton is getting down and dirty and using his considerable political capital to smear a great presidential candidate. I'm glad The Clintons are calling in favors from their black beholden elected officials and power brokers. Because every time they do, we get to dig up another little nugget which has us questioning the entire premise of "The Clinton Administration."And I'm glad Hillary keeps moving closer and closer to Bill, closer to that co-presidency. Keep running on "experience." Just don't get mad when we help remind people what that experience really was, and why many of us never want to see it return.