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April 24, 2013
Jewish World Review
January 31, 2008
/ 24 Shevat, 5768
Bill's Red Neck
In the acrid aftermath of the South Carolina primary, I
think it is safe to say that novelist Toni Morrison was dealing in
fiction when she pronounced Bill Clinton our first black president.
After watching him huff and puff up the issue of race in a way that
Americans have not seen since the presidential campaigns of the late
George Wallace, the former Boy President, rather than being our first
black president, is our second redneck president.
I say Clinton is our second redneck president because first came Jimmy
Carter. Jimmy did not play the role of the bigot while in the White
House, not exactly. Rather, as the historian Betty Glad demonstrated in
her fine biography of him, "Jimmy Carter: In Search of the Great White
House," Jimmy played the racial politics at the beginning of his
political career, in Georgia while seeking the governorship. That is not
to say that as president he did not use race divisively. He frequently
was given to transforming policy disagreements into a matter of white
voters repressing black voters, that is to say Republicans repressing
blacks. He was forever presuming himself to be the champion of black
people and Republicans to be anti-black. Any disagreement on domestic
issues he was apt to present as part of a Republican "Southern strategy"
to win Southern white votes.
Now, after the Clintons' treacherous campaign against Sen. Barack Obama,
we see that some Democrats will practice a Southern strategy, too. Yet
they do it within their own party, dividing Democrats along racial and
even ethnic lines. This is the repellent absurdity to which identity
politics has sunk. Why two Southern politicians would play the racial
politics each in his different way is mystifying. Southern
politicians, more than any other politicians in this country, should be
aware of the racial antagonisms of the past and the potential for racial
violence even today. It is especially mystifying to see Clinton play the
race card. I do not credit him with many virtues, but the one virtue I
thought he had was racial tolerance. Nowhere on his record is there any
evidence that he ever sought to benefit from bigotry against blacks.
That is no longer the case.
To be sure, as president, he treated race the way President Carter did,
interpreting policy differences between him and his Republican opponents
as inspired by the Republicans' presumed racism. Now, after his repeated
acts of treachery in South Carolina, we see a Bill actively turning
whites and blacks in his own party against each other. Moreover, he
wants to encourage ill will between Hispanics and blacks within his
party. He is making these invidious efforts purely to bring his family
back to power. Though I have called him a sociopath, I thought that when
it came to the issue of race, he might be more scrupulous.
Race is the cruel burden this country has borne since its inception. We
fought a bloody civil war over it. The evil of Jim Crow followed after
that war, featuring widespread injustices against blacks and violence
between the races. From North to South, race riots have broken out in
this country for generations. After the heroism and idealism of the
civil rights movement, the country has moved steadily toward racial
tolerance and an improvement of the material condition of all
minorities. Admittedly, there remain instances of unspeakable cruelty,
hate crimes committed by brutes on both sides. Yet with a growing sense
of tolerance and a growing economy offering jobs and other
opportunities, we have reason to believe that racial harmony is
replacing the racial strife of the past.
Now comes the Clinton quest for the Democratic nomination, and what
journalists politely call "the race card" is being practiced. It is a
dangerous game. Thankfully, racial tolerance is probably too far along
for the Clintons to screw it up. The divide between the races will
continue to narrow. But perhaps you will understand my astonishment
after the Clintons' demagoguery in South Carolina: They are actually
worse than I have been saying.
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