Friday, January 25, 2008

America's "First Black President" Makes Race-Based Accusations

With the New York Times editorial board having formally endorsed Hillary Clinton in the Democratic race and Ms. Clinton having recently won the popular vote in the Nevada primary, it is no wonder that the race has grown increasingly more tense in the past few weeks between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the top Democratic forerunners in the race to the White House. However, it seems as if a third member has entered the running, and it's not John Edwards.

Bill Clinton has been ardently supporting his wife with her campaign, so much so that it has deepened the bitter rift between Clinton and the Obama camp, his criticisms dwelling primarily on the subject of race. Though the Obama campaign has openly addressed present issues of race in the United States, their campaign has very little to do with race, Obama having minimized the fact that his skin color matches that of one of the most important constituent bodies in this race: the black community. As of late, Former President Bill Clinton has launched a campaign of his own in reaction to the Obama camp, accusing them of "stirring [the] race issue" and using Obama's blackness as an advantage over Ms. Clinton. In a recent Op-Ed piece by Gloria Steinem, a similar issue has been raised, painting Ms. Clinton as a victim of her gender in this presidential race in which gender and race have been contenders in the Oppression Olympics.

"Who has it worse? Blacks or women?" many have asked in relation to the Clinton and Obama campaigns, blatantly ignoring that black women exist on the fault lines. Blacks can be women and women can be black. How is this issue constantly ignored by so many white feminists AND black community activists in the public eye? Bill Clinton himself, known affectionately by many of his supporters in the black community as America's "first black president," has fallen into this trap, just like Steinem, portraying his wife as one who may suffer from being a woman as she campaigns against a black man. During a recent campaign sweep, Mr. Clinton is quoted as having said during his public remarks regarding the South Carolina primaries that "They [Clinton and Obama] are getting votes, to be sure, because of their race or gender, and that's why people tell me that Hillary doesn't have a chance to win here" as many of the voters are expected to be black.

Other statements from the former President have also caused a few Obama supports to raise eyebrows:

Mr. Clinton said no one in the audience in Charleston had asked him about how race was being used in the campaign. “They are feeding you this because they know this is what you want to cover,” he said. “What you care about is this. And the Obama people know that. So they just spin you up on this and you happily go along.”
in addition to the following from a New York Times piece on Mr. Clinton's involvement in the campaign:

KINGSTREE, S.C. — Former President Bill Clinton defended himself Wednesday against accusations that he and his wife had injected the issue of race into the Democratic presidential primary in South Carolina, and he accused Senator Barack Obama of Illinois of putting out a “hit job” on him.

Scolding a reporter, Mr. Clinton said the Obama campaign was “feeding” the news media to keep issues of race alive, obscuring positive coverage of the presidential campaign here of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

“They know this is what you want to cover,” Mr. Clinton told a CNN reporter in Charleston, in an apparent reference to the Obama campaign.

“Shame on you,” the former president added.

From a personal perspective, however, I am tired of being a pawn for the candidates to fight over. I don't like being discussed in the third person as I stand close by and watch. Something about the scramble for black votes in this campaign is a bit unnerving, and the use of Bill Clinton as part of the campaign, though understandable, makes me feel even more like an object, as if black voters are simply blind followers, voting for Hillary because they retain a sense of nostalgia from the Clinton Presidential era or, as the Former President assumes, voting for Obama simply because he's "one of us." I'm insulted by the assumption that I, or other black voters, would ignore the facts and the plans for the future that each candidate advocates and simply press a button for a candidate based on purely superficial reasons. I'm interested in seeing how the campaigns will progress from here, but if they continue down this path, I fear that I will face many more problems in choosing candidate.
- Wendi Muse


Wayetu Moore said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Wayetu Moore said...

Great piece, Wendi. I was actually quite offended this week at Clinton's words and actions. It seems as though he is accusing Obama of doing exactly what he is trying to do now, and did a decade ago. There is a great article about this on also. It's as though we were almost completely hopeless and discouraged in there ever being an African-American president that we quickly deemed the first white man that improved unemployment and played the saxophone the "first black president". Because of this, it's as though Clinton expects the African-American population to vote for who he endorses. "I was your man, remember?" He asks, while pointing his finger at a man who even if he wins, is too little and too late for a title and moment that should be his.

Wendi Muse said...

there is a related post on racialicious this morning (a critique of ny times' coverage of bill clinton's connection with black americans):