Hillary and the Race Card

Hillary Clinton's surrogates constantly remind us of Barack Obama's youthful cocaine use (which Obama himself wrote about to emphasize the power of redemption). Former President Bill Clinton said of Obama's Iraq war opposition, "Give me a break. This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen."

It is time to take a break to remember the fairy tales spun by the House of Clinton.It increasingly appears that Hillary is unable or unwilling to break from the racial patronization of Bill. In 1993, in the same Memphis church that Martin Luther King Jr. spoke from 25 years earlier, I noted that Clinton spoke as "if African-Americans had full run of the promised land in the last 25 years."

Clinton told the church, "We gave people the freedom to succeed." Clinton said King would have said, "You did a good job . . . letting people . . . live wherever they want to live, go wherever they want to go . . . without regard to race, if you work hard and play by the rules."

I wrote back then that in the broad context of the nation, no one "let" us do anything or "gave" us anything. Yes, African-Americans made progress and many white Americans aided in that progress, but it still came in the face of continued, documented redlining, workplace discrimination, and the decline of funding of public schools.

Bill Clinton hugely betrayed that progress by doing nothing as Draconian, and ultimately racist federal sentencing laws took full effect, punishing crack possession far more harshly than powdered-cocaine possession. Even though Americans use illegal drugs close to their racial percentage of the population, young black men made up the vast majority of those sentenced under crack laws. According to the Justice Policy Institute, the rate of black male imprisonment under Clinton grew from 2,800 per 100,000 to 3,620 per 100,000. As a result, 14 percent of black men lost the right to vote.

What was it that Bill Clinton said about "we gave people the freedom to succeed?"

Now, it appears that the House of Clinton, seeing that the race for the Democratic nomination is not an adoring coronation, is trickling with tricks that raise questions about how much she will toy with the race card and overplay the gender card. Her aides tried to peddle a kindergarten "essay" by Obama to mock his ambition to be president. She had to fire two volunteers in Iowa for peddling hoax e-mails about Obama being Muslim.

New Hampshire co-chairman Bill Shaheen had to resign for wondering aloud if Obama's self-revealing cocaine use made him unelectable. Even after Shaheen's departure, Clinton strategist Mark Penn claimed with crocodile words, "The issue related to cocaine use is not something that the campaign was in any way raising."

This weekend, a prominent black surrogate did Shaheen's dirty work. Robert Johnson, the shameless founder of Black Entertainment Network, the man who became a billionaire off grotesque, booty-shaking, thug-glorifying music videos, boasted at a Clinton rally in South Carolina how the House of Clinton is so "deeply and emotionally involved in black issues." He said they were involved while "Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood - and I won't say what he was doing, but he said it in the book."

Obama has not been without fault in the patronization game. He made a dumb move in the New Hampshire debates by telling Clinton, "you're likable enough" when Clinton was answering a question about her likability quotient. But this pales next to the steady drip, drip, drip of stereotyping from the Clinton camp of a lazy, drug-using, Muslim black man who believes in fairy tales. It also pales to the gender-card whining of Bill on Hillary's behalf, saying in the 11th hour in New Hampshire, "I can't make her younger, taller, male." You have not yet heard Obama surrogates moaning they can't make Obama older or female.

Hillary Clinton herself fanned the fumes of patronization when she reached clumsily for an analogy that appeared to link Obama and King to simplistic hopers and dreamers, while it took a white man, President Johnson, to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Up to now, the Democratic race has been a victorious story of Americans saying they found it hard to choose between Obama, Clinton, and John Edwards, with issues and personality mattering more than gender or race. Let us hope the candidates, particularly Hillary Clinton, remember that, before they divide the Democrats into a bitter, weakened bunch for November.

Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is jackson@globe.com.

(c) Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company

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