Mayor Richard Daley, 1968 Democratic Convention
It looks like 2008 is going to be 1968 redux in my case.
I first became active in national politics in 1968, part of the "Children's Crusade" to end the war in a number of primaries.
I believed in Bobby Kennedy, believed that he had the capacity to be a great President, a much better President than his brother.
When all was said and done, after Hubert Humphrey sold out and the "Politics of Joy" brought us to the disaster of Chicago, after the Democratic party's establishment was done with us all, I ended up voting for Hubert Humphrey.
Hubert Humphrey, however principled he might have been during most of his political career, turned out to be unprincipled. When confronted with the conflict between a thirst for the presidency and the politics of principle on the Vietman War, Humphrey chose to sate his thirst.
I voted in November 1968 with about as much enthusiasm as I looked forward to a visit to the dentist. It took, quite literally, an act of will for me to vote for Humphrey. But Humphrey, as bad as he was, was better, in my eyes, than Richard Nixon, who I considered dangerous.
It looks like I'm going to face a rerun in 2008.
I believe in Barack Obama, based on years of experience with him. I believe that he has the capacity to be a great President, a much better President than any Democrat I've seen on the national stage since Bobby Kennedy.
And it looks like, when all is said and done this year, I'm going to end up voting for Hillary Clinton in November.
As was the case with Hubert Humphrey, Hillary Clinton has turned out to be unprincipled. When confronted with the conflict between a thirst for the presidency and the politics of principle on race, Clinton has chosen to sate her thirst.
And as was the case with Hubert Humphrey, I'll be voting for Hillary Clinton with about as much enthusiasm as I look forward to a visit to the dentist. My vote this year will be an act of will, not an act of willingness.
reason that I'll be voting for Clinton is that of the certainties in life, the certainty that the Republicans are going to put up an even worse candidate this year is as immutable as death and taxes.
The difference between 1968 and 2008 is that dentistry has gotten a lot better in forty years. The ugly, divisive politics of race has not.
I've been watching the Clinton campaign's careful marginalization of Barack Obama as "the black candidate" with fascination and disgust.
I've been watching with fascination because the Clinton campaign has been playing the race card with rare skill, slowly but surely painting Barack Obama into "the black candidate" corner to destroy his chances of national electability, and doing so with typical Clintonian "now you see me, now you don't" skill.
I've been watching with disgust because the Clinton campaign has been playing the race card as raw and ugly as the late Mayor Richard Daley used to play it in Chicago. The Clinton campaign has been engaging in "plantation politics
", using race as a wedge to gain political advantage, betting that, in the end, African-Americans will have nowhere else to go in November and will come around.
The Clinton effort to marginalize Obama started in earnest on January 7, after the Iowa primaries. Hillary Clinton, seeing Obama's rise in the polls and popularity among white voters despite the racial divisions that continue to plague our country, opined: "Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. ... It took a president to get it done.
Clinton's statement did not, as the talking heads have been suggesting, denigrate Martin Luther King. Denied the vote, African-Americans needed sympathetic white politicians to break through the barrier of disenfranchisement. Dr. King's campaign to force Lyndon Johnson and other white politicians to enfranchise African-Americans was brilliant, and successful.
Lyndon Johnson's heart might have been in the right place -- he had a long history of doing what he could, given the political realities of the Senate in the days when he held sway in that body, to ease the burdens of segregation. But in the end, he moved to enfranchise African-Americans only when it became politically impossible for him not
to do so, and Dr. King's leadership of "the movement" created that reality for Lyndon Johnson.
So her remarks did not denigrate Martin Luther King. Nor, I believe, were her remarks intended to say anything
about Dr. King or President Johnson.
The fury over Clinton's remarks, although I have seen little commentary along these lines, is about the present
The Johnson/King analogy was about the present
, and was more damning than anything Hillary Clinton could have said about the past
What Clinton was implying -- an implication not missed by whites in the rural community in which I live, because a half dozen folks have raised it with me in the last two weeks -- was this: "I'm like Lyndon Johnson; Barack Obama is like Martin Luther King. I may not dream, but I am a powerful white politician who can get things done. Barack Obama may dream, but he is black and is not a powerful politician. Like it or not, white politicians hold the levers of power, and can get things done, while black politicians do not hold the levers of power, and can talk but not do. If you want change, you need me.
Notwithstanding the denials coming out of the Clinton campaign, I believe that was the intended subtext of Clinton's statement, the subtext underlying the fury. We may be reluctant to speak in such raw terms, but I think we should.
The Clinton campaign, as noted, denies this interpretation, and accuses those of us who speak of it as "fanning the race flames". Instead, the Clinton campaign would have us believe that Hillary Clinton misspoke, not meaning what she implied, not suggesting anything of the sort.
Maybe that's true. But I don't believe it.
I might believe the denials but for one thing: In the week following the uproar, Clinton and her surrogates, from her husband to Robert Johnson to a variety of campaign spokesmen, have played a dangerous game of demeaning and dismissing Barack Obama as the "black candidate", and suggesting that African-Americans are nothing more than pawns in the political arena. As recently as the other day, Senator Clinton herself made patronizing remarks to the effect that she will understand it if African-Americans in South Carolina decide to vote for Barack Obama because
he is black. What until tomorrow's primary and the follow up "spin", which I am certain will include remarks from the Clinton campaign dismissing the results in South Carolina as a "racial identity" vote.
What is so dangerous about the Clinton campaign's game is that it resurrects the white empowerment, black disempowerment model of politics that existed forty years ago.
Forty years ago, in the 1960's, African-American dependence on white politicians was necessary because discrimination denied African Americans political options and political power. A man like Barack Obama couldn't even vote
in many states, let along be a serious candidate for President of the United States, appealing to white voters in large numbers.
Today, that model -- white politicians "getting things done" for African-Americans in exchange for political loyalty -- is an anachronism.
The candidacy of Barack Obama has amply demonstrated how much an anachronism it is.
Slogging through the months and months of campaigning necessary to be a viable candidate for the presidency, Barack Obama caught hold among a significant number of voters, white and black. He caught hold because of the quality of his ideas and the quality of his mind and character.
Barack Obama's candidacy does not demonstrate that racism is dead in our country -- it is alive and well, as any number of conversations I've had in the last year demonstrate. Instead, Barack Obama is a candidate who has able to move forward despite
his race, because of the quality of his ideas and the quality of his mind and character, and his appeal to a broad spectrum of Americans.
Think about that. Until the Clinton campaign, alarmed that his candidacy was being taken seriously
by whites in the way that previous campaigns by Jesse Jackson were not, began its own campaign to paint Obama as "the black candidate", Barack Obama had been seen as "a candidate who was black" rather than "the black candidate".
The Clintons are doing none of us a favor by changing that ...
Hillary Clinton, as far as I am concerned, is digging a hole for herself. She has high negatives -- about 45% of the voters in this country will not vote for her under any circumstances -- and she is likely, for that reason, to be in a tight race this November, despite disgust over the Bush administration. Clinton cannot afford to turn off any more voters. And from what I am hearing, the Clinton campaign of the last few weeks has turned off many voters.
Most, I suspect, are voters who are turned off but might vote for her anyway, simply because the alternative is much worse, but a significant number of voters may well elect to sit it out. If even 5% of Democrat and independent voters stay home on November 4, Clinton is finished.
Be that as it may, nothing, I think, so clearly demonstrates that Hillary Clinton is caught in the "old politics" as the campaign of the last few weeks. I do not believe for a minute that Hillary Clinton believes in white supremacy
, but it does seem that she believes in the "old politics" of white entitlement
And that, in this day and age, should not stand. In this day and age, that kind of thinking may well cost Hillary Clinton the presidency. And it should.