Poisoning The Racial Wells


My Sunday Times column is on the Clintons and race:

In the Clintons’ morphing into a crude version of racially angry Reagan Democrats, you can see an almost Shakespearian tragedy. Bill Clinton has a long and admirable record in civil rights; and was on the right side of the struggle in the South in his youth. He has an effortless rapport with black Americans, and they were his core final constituency of support in the darkest days of impeachment.

But like any southerner, Clinton also knew how to navigate racial resentment.

In 1992, he interrupted the primary campaign to return to Arkansas to sign the death warrant of a mentally retarded black man. He made a point of attacking the radical black hip hop artist Sister Souljah in his first campaign. He signed off on welfare reform. His genius was in holding together a coalition that included enough Reagan Democrats to win, while never losing wide and deep black support.

But he never ran against a black candidate and neither did his wife. They are used to loving and supporting minorities – as long as the minorities know their place and see the Clintons as the instrument of their salvation. Obama broke that dependency and that relationship. And that was why the Clintons had to do all they could to destroy and belittle and besmirch him.

But in that venture the Clintons are destroying themselves and their legacy and their capacity to bridge the very gaps they now must widen to stay in the race. It is a Clinton tragedy – and one that most Americans seem slowly, cautiously but palpably determined not to make their own.

(Photo: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty.)