3/11/08 Seattle Post-Intelligencer B6
In the aftermath of the Texas and Ohio primaries, black voters are
awakening to stark realities: Democrats, as demonstrated by Hillary
and Bill Clinton, are exceptionally skilled at playing the race card
- against their own.
First, there is the rude awakening that the Clintons would turn
their slash-and-burn tactics on African-Americans. Second, that the
Democratic Party would retreat to the sidelines as the Clintons
trashed black voters and their values, as they did in South
Carolina, Texas and Ohio. Third, that Clinton surrogates, including
U.S. Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston and Stephanie Tubbs Jones
of Cleveland, who were elected to Congress by black voters, would be
enablers for the Clintons' pointed attacks.
Stunned African-American voters are doing a lot of soul searching
about the wisdom of steering 90 percent or more of their votes to
one party. It's gone beyond a discussion of Democrats taking blacks
for granted to a demand for dignity - that blacks be treated as full
You see, black folks revered the Clintons, even referring to Bill
as the first "black president." (My, my, as we say in church.)
They erroneously believed that their lifelong loyalty to
Democrats - and, particularly, to the Clintons - had earned them
respect. They naively believed that Hillary and Bill would play it
straight when it came to vying for the Democratic presidential
nomination in a contest that pitted the former first lady against
Barack Obama, the African-American senator from Illinois. And they
trusted the officials they elected to Congress to watch out for
It's clear that there is an opportunity here for Republicans.
Even if blacks are unwilling to leap to the GOP tomorrow, many say
they no longer are willing to belong to a party that treats them
like "house negroes."
The Clinton attacks, in ads and speeches, have opened a very deep
wound that gets bloodier with each primary.
Those assaults against black voters surfaced in the South
Carolina primary. After Obama trounced Clinton there,
hubby Bill belittled the victory by framing the outcome in racial
terms, saying that Jesse Jackson had won the state in 1984 and 1988.
In doing that, he signaled to white voters that Obama - who
previously had been cast as "not black enough" - was now too black
to be president. But the message resonated very differently in the
My mom, who voted for Hillary in the South Carolina primary,
phoned me after hearing Bill's comments.
"They think we are so stupid," Mom said of the Clintons. "They
think we can't think for ourselves, can't choose candidates based on
their policies or records. They think we just go along with any
black face that shows up."
Hillary Clinton lost Mom's support that day, and the Democrats,
depending on the outcome of the primary, might well have lost it
That insult was followed by several other racially coded messages
delivered by the Clintons and their surrogates. There was the photo
circulated by Clinton folks (according to Matt Drudge, who posted it
at drudgereport.com) that showed Obama in Somali garb. The photo was
taken in 2006, when he visited Kenya. Message: He's a black Muslim.
Hillary Clinton had an opportunity to set the record straight and
put those fears to rest during an appearance on "60 Minutes." But
instead of giving the facts, that Obama is, and has always been, a
Christian, she answered slyly when asked if she believed Obama was a
Muslim: "No. No, there is nothing to base that on. As far as I
Then came the many ads by Hillary Clinton that Obama is a guy who
can sure make good speeches, but he is too inexperienced to be
president in a dangerous and complex world. Remember the red phone
ad hyped by the media? So the guy is articulate, but not qualified
to be commander in chief. How many blacks have wrongly been denied
jobs with the excuse that they aren't qualified?
But give her credit. She has
spun perception into reality.
Facts are funny things, though. Obama has more experience in
elective politics than Clinton, having served a combined 12 years in
the Illinois Legislature and U.S. Senate to her eight years in the
U.S. Senate. Neither candidate has a military background or
executive experience and Clinton's one red phone moment was her vote
to authorize President Bush to invade Iraq.
By the way, younger voters of all races were not fooled by the
Clinton attack machine. They stuck with Obama as the candidate who
has the greatest ability to change Washington, bring the country
together and inspire Americans to greater heights. Don't lose hope,
young folks. By demanding civility, you are setting the example that
we adults should be following.
In the meantime, Clinton, with black surrogates in tow, is
running around the country declaring that the Democrats will have a
united party in November. Like Mom said, they think we're stupid.
Alberta Phillips writes for the Austin American-Statesman.