2/4/08 Bucks County Courier Times A7
Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, in their first one-on-one
debate, in Los Angeles, were asked at the outset to distinguish themselves
from each other.
The question was motivated legitimately by a sense that there is really very
little difference between these two liberal Democrats.
Both noted a key difference in their approach to health care. Each wants
extensive government regulation. But Clinton wants federal government
mandates to force individuals to buy her plan and Obama rejects individual
This key departure in health policy hints at a far more fundamental
difference in the mindsets of these two candidates.
Clinton's big-government liberalism is less rooted in liberal ideals than in
the interest-group plantation politics that has defined the Democratic Party
of recent years.
These differences in orientation were articulated well back in a famous
keynote address given at the 1976 Democratic convention by a black
congresswoman from Texas, Barbara Jordan.
Jordan made an appeal for a sense of national community that would derive
its authority from citizens. She warned against what she called "the great
danger America faces - that we cease to be one nation and become instead a
collection of interest groups."
It's evident that if a Democrat gets elected president, we will have our
first woman president or our first black president. We're hearing a lot
about the gender and race thing from Clinton, but not much about it from
It was Clinton who introduced race tension into the election. After Obama
told a crowd in South Carolina at the time of Martin Luther King's birthday
that the slain civil rights leader's crusade was not a "false hope," Clinton
stepped in to point out that President Lyndon Johnson (the white patron) got
the Civil Rights Act passed.
And then, of course, the senator's surrogate, husband Bill, minimized
Obama's landslide victory in South Carolina as a black thing, pointing out
that Jesse Jackson also did well there in 1984 and 1988.
When asked at the L.A. debate about immigration hurting blacks by depressing
wages, Obama refused to take the bait. He insisted on addressing immigration
as a national problem, of concern to all, and independent of the unique
problems that are plaguing our inner cities.
Why does the black candidate want to keep race out of the discussion, and
why has Clinton made such a point to keep it in?
Dick Morris opened speculation about this, pointing out that Clinton would
use her inevitable defeat in South Carolina to her advantage by provoking
white backlash with not-so-subtle reminders of race politics and bloc black
And indeed, Bill Clinton followed the script with his reference to Jackson.
But there's much more to this.
Hillary Clinton is playing with black psyches as well as white ones.
Black consciousness has always been defined by a sense of vulnerability. And
so common political appeals to blacks have played on fears that the country
is incorrigibly racist and that their only hope is to salvage a piece of the
pie through political power and protection.
Nothing can be more threatening to these politics than a successful,
talented black man like Obama running as an American candidate rather than
as a black candidate.
But a black off the plantation is the last thing that Sen. Clinton wants.
She wants blacks to feel impotent and vulnerable and in need of a political
patron to hand them the goodies they need.
Nothing could speak more clearly to the differences than Oprah Winfrey
coming out for Obama and Clinton rolling out Robert Johnson, founder of
Black Entertainment Television, to speak on her behalf.
Winfrey is a mainstream success, with a daily TV audience of millions of
women, mostly white. Johnson made his fortune through black sexploitation.
At a Democratic Party candidate debate last summer at Howard University,
Sen. Clinton was asked about the prevalence of AIDS among young black women.
Her response was to first attribute this to racism and then talk about
government programs. Can anyone imagine her telling blacks the truth that
the solution starts with responsible personal sexual behavior?
I certainly don't buy into Obama's liberalism. But I am not surprised one
bit that so many see him as a breath of fresh air over Clinton's hacked
plantation politics of fear, dependence and patronage.