In my post “Race and Political Context: The “First Black President” Reconsidered”, I ended with an allusion to Hillary Clinton’s use of race. My colleague Jack has an interesting post on Hillary Clinton, authenticity, and double standards, but I would like to substantiate those perceptions of pandering in this post. Although Jack seems to sarcastically dismiss “mastering the art of racial pandering”, Bill did in fact master the art of racial pandering. He actually mastered the art of racially pandering to the white vote, as I have described in “Race and Political Context.” Hillary Clinton also made a series of questionable comments during her campaign against the man who would become the first black president, despite claiming that “Neither race nor gender should be a part of this campaign.”
Barack Obama faced an unprecedented challenge in 2008, daring to think he would be the black man in the White House. The black community also began to believe in the “first black president” dream, after witnessing Obama maintain leads in the primaries of majority white states. Hillary Clinton sought to end that dream, abruptly snapping black voters out of their daze to let them know the first woman was on her way to the oval office. In the original post that started this discussion of black politics, Jack correctly notes that black voters ditched Clinton for Obama as evidenced by the South Carolina primary. Several black politicians expressed displeasure early on with the way Clinton handled race. In response to a comment Clinton made about how “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,” prominent Congressional Black Caucus member Jim Clyburn reminded her that “We have to be very, very careful about how we speak about that era in American politics. It is one thing to run a campaign and be respectful of everyone’s motives and actions, and it is something else to denigrate those. That bothered me a great deal.”
As the Democratic primary dragged on, Clinton became more desperate. Her veiled racial attacks underscore her desperation. Bernie Sanders has been called on to drop out of the 2016 primary because his attacks help Republicans, but Hillary Clinton gleefully joined Republicans in a racial smear campaign against Obama. The infamous Jeremiah Wright controversy was Obama’s race test of his 2008 campaign. Reverend Wright was a fiery black preacher deemed radical by white society. After it was revealed that Obama attended Wright’s sermons, Hillary Clinton, in a strikingly similar fashion as her husband did with the Sistah Souljah incident, attempted to paint a dark picture of a black man. In her own words:
“It is clear that, as leaders, we have a choice who we associate with and who we apparently give some kind of seal of approval to. And I think that it wasn’t only the specific remarks but some of the relationships with Reverend Farrakhan, with giving the church bulletin over to the leader of Hamas, to put a message in.”
Disregarding the fact that she should have condemned attacks that tied Obama to Wright which implied Obama was a “black radical”, Clinton went a step further by suggesting Obama had associations with the provocative Nation of Islam, and a terrorist group. This quote becomes more disheartening when considering the fact that the moderator gave her a chance to skip the question. Additionally, it is almost unimaginable that Democrats, in the racial climate of 2016, would say nothing on the racial attacks on Obama, asserting he was secretly a Muslim, not born in the United States, a communist, a Marxist, or a black president that would “hook his people up.”
The most telling point in Clinton’s campaign however, was her electability argument. No, I’m not referring to how a candidate is a socialist, or communist, or Marxist, or being compared to Hitler because he hates minorities. I’m referring to race. After failing to condemn those in her campaign that said Obama wouldn’t win because he is black, Hillary Clinton began making the case herself. Regarding a report by the Associated Press, Clinton said it:
“…found how Senator Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me. …There’s a pattern emerging here,”
As the Clinton Camp doubled down on this, media publications such as the New York Times, which endorsed Clinton in 2008, were taken aback by the negative tone of the Clinton Campaign. The NYT Editorial Board put it politely:
“But we believe just as strongly that Mrs. Clinton will be making a terrible mistake — for herself, her party and for the nation — if she continues to press her candidacy through negative campaigning with disturbing racial undertones.”
The race-electability argument is a potentially racist argument to make. Firstly, by saying or even implying as Clinton did throughout her campaign, that white voters may not elect a black man, the scenario becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is similar to the idea of “your vote doesn’t really count” and then resulting in a situation with low or possibly no voter turnout. If people believe that a candidate can’t win because of their race, then they will not vote for the candidate because of their race. Also, if Bernie Sanders even in the slightest bit suggested that Clinton wouldn’t win because her gender is an election liability, Clinton and the “liberal media” would give Sanders a stern castigation.
Finally, while I don’t think the racial undertones in it are clear, Clinton’s widely criticized “3 a.m” ad has been examined by academics who study race and are acutely aware of its’ underpinnings. These scholars have some intriguing analyses of the ad.
There is much more to be said about how the Clintons fiddled with blackness in 2008. (See sources below) Through my analysis, I have demonstrated the role blackness played, or how Hillary played blackness rather, in the 2008 primaries. After all the racial drama on display in the 2008 election season, Secretary Clinton carefully strung the racial strings the Republicans played, in a shrewd way. Isn’t it quite interesting how Hillary Clinton saw Obama’s blackness as a weakness, attempted to use it against him, and then clings to him as a defense throughout the 2016 Democratic debates? Clinton said in a democratic debate that “…the kind of criticism that we’ve heard from Senator Sanders about our president I expect from Republicans” How ironic that Clinton sounded similar to Republicans in 2008, acting as a political opportunist willing to use race as a wedge issue. White liberal commentators can be tone deaf to blackness in some ways. Perceptions of Hillary Clinton as inauthentic are in fact related to sexism. However, black complaints about pandering are not unjustified; when I reminded Jack and my audience that “Blackness is like a tree branch that extends to the heart and mind, with a powerfully vivid memory and heightened sensitivity at the root” we as black people always look at the past.
(Jermiah Wright) http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/26/us/politics/26wright.html