2008 Presidential Election, Race and Racism
Professor Vernellia Randall
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Clintons Open a Deep Wound With Blacks


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Alberta Phillips
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 partners.

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 their interests.

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 black community.

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 forever.

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 know."

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. E-mail: aphillips@statesman.com.


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