Memos to Bill and Hillary
I've been tuning out this week's hysteria. Not having a play-by-play and (later) blow-by-blow account of it, I know I'm a little late getting to the game (like about the 6th inning). But I'm not liking what I've been hearing as I walk by the kitchen TV. Not any of it. And, since I don't watch 'debates' any more (more on that later), I don't know how it played out. But I have a pretty good idea as to how it got started.
Correct me if I'm mistaken, but I think Hillary gave Lyndon Johnson equal credit with Martin Luther King for the civil rights legislation of the 1960's. This, on the week of MLK's 79th birthday. As has been pointed out more than once, that's a little like giving Clement Richard Attlee equal billing with Mahatma Gandhi for winning independence for India. You ask WTF was Atlee? You make my case. (Google him.) Additionally, if Hillary wants to pose as today's LBJ, she should remember that he inherited JFK's Vietnam project and presided over the Bay of Tomkin fraud. All of which causes me to ask if Hillary anticipates inheriting GWB's Iraq project, does she also anticipate presiding over a future Strait of Hormuz incident? But that's another story, I guess.
Anyway, there are two really fine, excellent and spot-on statements on Billarygate which I encountered in my early morning comatose hour today, which I feel compelled to share with my faithful reader(s). Because they give expression - perfectly - to the anger and angst I have experienced this week.
The first is from Clarence B. Jones. former personal counsel, advisor, draft speech writer and close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Jones is a Scholar in Residence at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Institute at Stanford University. His forthcoming book titled What Would Martin Say? will be published by HarperCollins in April 2008. Here is the last part of what he posted on the Huffingtonpost this morning:
The candidacy of Senator Barack Obama may just be part of the Promised Land that Martin believed we as a people would get to, even though he prophetically said he may not there with us. The possible election of Senator Obama in 2008 as President of the United States may very well be more powerful than the march of mighty armies -- an idea for which the time has come.
Finally, a caution, if not a warning, to President Clinton, Senator Clinton and their campaign advisors: You run the risk of dissipating, corrupting, if not destroying, the justifiably deserved and accumulated positive capital and goodwill you have earned among black people from President and Senator Clinton's own history of struggle for racial justice. Few public officials, especially President Clinton, like Senator John Edwards, a son of the white south, have transcended the segregationist's racist conditions of their southern upbringing, and committed their lives to racial justice. As such they have earned their "credentials" among black people. Prior to the current election contest, President Clinton was belovedly characterized by many African Americans as "America's first black president". However, the Clinton presidential campaign's apparent blind ambition for power runs the risk of destroying Clinton's reservoir of earned political integrity and affection among black people.
I suspect to some African Americans, especially older parents and grandparents, Senator Obama is symbolic and/or represents their sons and grandsons, for whom most have sacrificed to get them an education and succeed. Good faith questions about qualifications and experience are always appropriate about a candidate who seeks the nomination of his party to be president. However, gratuitous attacks against Obama or sarcastic paternalism dismissing his "qualifications" to be President of the United States are offensive and carry a tinge of "we know what's best for you" racism. This only serves to embolden Senator Obama's younger supporters; as they appear to resent such condescension and respond by saying "Yes we (he) can!!" Despite perhaps knowing less about the legacy of Dr. King, these young people nonetheless sense that Senator Obama's campaign for president may also be "an idea whose time has come."
In the name of my beloved friend Martin, I beseech all candidates to pause in a moment of reflection and consider whether what you do and say to get elected as president either enhances or diminishes the ultimate sacrifice that Dr. King made so that you are in a viable position to be in the presidential race in 2009.
The second piece of advice is by Matt Bai, one of my favorite political writers. Here is the last portion of his Primary Argument:
. . . . What's most confounding about this latest turn into ugliness, though, is the Clintons' remarkable capacity to cast themselves as the victims in every fight. And so here is Hillary Rodham Clinton accusing Barack Obama of somehow injecting race into the campaign, because she found herself in a world of trouble for her own comments about Martin Luther King and Lyndon Johnson. Now, I really do think she was intending only to make a sensible point about the value of experience in the White House, but look, the Clintons embody the generation that invented identity politics and political correctness. If Mrs. Clinton couldn't guess at how that comment was going to land in the black community, then she must have been suffering amnesia.
I wrote last week about how Mr. Obama was facing a perilous moment in his campaign. It seems to me that the same is true of the Clintons, and they may need to step back and briefly reflect. Both Clintons now find themselves in an unfamiliar reality, the kind of all-out war for the nomination that Bill Clinton twice managed to avoid. They will get all kinds of advice from people whose career opportunities are at stake and who will do or say anything to win. They are surrounded by overzealous politicians and interest groups willing do whatever it takes to shut down Barack Obama and deliver their states to Hillary Rodham Clinton.
It must be a kind of nightmare for both Clintons to be running, at this moment, against a talented black man, to be caught in an existential choice between losing their mythical status in the black community or possibly losing to a candidate they feel certain does not deserve to win. But only they can afford to be concerned right now with their own historical legacy, about seeing all that they have accomplished on behalf of their party and its commitment to fairness and equality blown away in the space of a few months. No one else is going to protect all that for them. No one around them is going to take the long view, because that's not the way supporters think.
No one expects Mrs. Clinton to stand down and let Mr. Obama make his case unchallenged. She could, however, send a clear message to the cogs in the machinery she's built that there is a line she will not cross. She could tell her Nevada allies that the job of the Democratic Party she grew up in is to make it easier for people to caucus, not harder. She could tell Robert Johnson that he needs to apologize, the same way she forced Bill Shaheen, her New Hampshire co-chairman, to resign last month. She can make it plain to all those people trying to get jobs in the next Clinton Administration that there is way to win-a rough and combative way, even-that nonetheless won't destroy all the good that the Clintons, at least for a lot of Democrats, have come to represent.
Progressives have a unique opportunity to reset America's national agenda domestically and internationally. The leadership team in the Democratic party is talented and deep.
But team chemistry is still critical, even for teams at the championship level. Our opponents, the Retrogressives in the Wall Street Journal and Faux News, are falling over themselves in revelry. They are celebrating what they call the racial divide in the Democratic party. We know the Reich has never been right about anything. They are certainly mistaken about a racial fracture between Progressives and Liberals. But we cannot afford the risk that the casual, inattentive voter might become confused by the GOP noise machine.
It's not too late for our people to stop running against each other; and it's not to early for them to start running against the party of war and greed. Let's put the A-Team on the field. Whoever it may turn out to be.