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“Don’t Let This Fester”: Hillary Clinton Needs To Address The Racist Undertones Of Her 2008 Campaign

Black Lives Matter, the advocacy group for black interests, has gotten the attention of the Democratic presidential candidates, who are reportedly scrambling to reach out to the movement. Even heavy favorite Hillary Clinton is getting in on it, addressing the movement in a Q&A session on Facebook, where she checked most of the right boxes.

DeRay McKesson, one of the movement’s leaders, wrote on Twitter that the post was “solid.” But he also noted that she had two days to work on it, and did not attend the liberal forum Netroots Nation, unlike her challengers Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, who flailed in front of activists from Black Lives Matter.

McKesson is right to be suspicious. Hillary Clinton’s record on race is not great. If she wishes to earn some trust on issues of racial justice, a good place to start would be with the distinctly racist undertones of her 2008 campaign against Barack Obama.

As the first primaries got underway in 2008, and Obama began to slowly pull ahead, the Clinton camp resorted to increasingly blatant race- and Muslim-baiting. It started in February, when Louis Farrakhan, the head of the Nation of Islam, endorsed Obama in a sermon. In a debate a couple days later, moderator Tim Russert repeatedly pressed Obama on the issue, who responded with repeated reassurances that he did not ask for the endorsement, did not accept it, and in fact was not a deranged anti-Semite. That wasn’t enough for Clinton, who demanded that Obama “denounce” Farrakhan, which he did.

About the same time, a picture of Obama in traditional Somali garb (from an official trip) then appeared on the Drudge Report, and Matt Drudge claimed he got it from the Clinton campaign. After stonewalling on the origin question, the campaign later claimed it had nothing to do with it. A Clinton flack then went on MSNBC and argued that Obama should not be ashamed to appear in “his native clothing, in the clothing of his country.”

Later, a media firestorm blew up when it was discovered that Obama’s Chicago pastor Jeremiah Wright once delivered a sermon containing the words “God damn America.” In response, Obama gave a deft, nuanced speech on racial issues, but Clinton kept the issue alive by insisting she would have long ago denounced the man.

The late Michael Hastings, who covered Clinton’s campaign, described one instance of this strategy on the ground:

[Clinton supporter] Buffenbarger launched into a rant in which he compared Obama to Muhammad Ali, the best-known black American convert to Islam after Malcolm X. “But brothers and sisters,” he said, “I’ve seen Ali in action. He could rope-a-dope with Foreman inside the ring. He could go toe-to-toe with Liston inside the ring. He could get his jaw broken by Norton and keep fighting inside the ring. But Barack Obama is no Muhammad Ali.” The cunning racism of the attack actually made my heart start to beat fast and my ears start to ring. For the first time on the campaign trail, I felt completely outraged. I kept thinking, “Am I misreading this?” But there was no way, if you were in that room, to think it was anything other than what it was. [GQ]

Then there was Bill Clinton comparing Obama’s campaign to that of Jesse Jackson’s unsuccessful run in 1988. The capstone came in May, when Hillary Clinton started openly boasting about her superior support from white voters.

The effort was not so blatant as George H.W. Bush’s Willie Horton ad, but the attempt to play on racist attitudes through constant repetition and association was unmistakable — in addition to playing into right-wing conspiracy theories that Obama is a secret Muslim who was born in Africa. It’s likely why in West Virginia — a state so racist that some guy in a Texas prison got 40 percent of the Democratic primary vote in 2012 — Clinton won a smashing victory.

This brings us back to today’s presidential race. Many of the demands posed by activists focus on rhetorical gestures of support and solidarity (a notable feature of the Netroots confrontation last weekend). But this raises this issue of trust: A very charming, cynical person could simply promise support using the right words, win the election, then forget all about it.

Does the Hillary Clinton of 2008 sound like someone who’s genuinely committed to the cause of racial justice? If she has changed her views, now would be a good time to explain.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, July 23, 2015

July 28, 2015 Posted by | Black Lives Matter, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Netroots Nation | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Stark Difference”: Republicans Fear Their Activist Base. Democrats Don’t

We’ve gotten so used to Republican infighting over the last few years that it would have been easy to forget that historically it’s the Democrats who have been the most consumed by internecine arguments. Over the weekend we got a reminder, as a group of protesters disrupted a forum at the Netroots Nation gathering of liberal activists where Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley were speaking. By all accounts, neither Sanders nor O’Malley handled it particularly well.

But if we look at this event in combination with what’s happening on the Republican side, we can see the stark differences in the relationship of each side’s base, its activists, and its candidates.

If you want a moment-by-moment account of the event, I’d recommend this one from Eclectablog or Dara Lind’s insightful analysis of the different forces at play. If the protesters wanted to make the point that Sanders in particular is not spending enough time talking about racial injustice, then he did their work for them by reacting in a somewhat combative way and trying to forge ahead with what he wanted to say about economics. But it’s hard to avoid this question: Is Bernie Sanders the guy you want to be protesting? To what end?

I say that not because Sanders has a strong record on civil rights, though he does. And if the complaint is that Sanders isn’t talking about race as much as he could, well that’s true, too. The truth is that however good his intentions, Bernie Sanders is a longtime Democratic politician who has never really needed the support of the single most important Democratic constituency, African-Americans. He represents the whitest state in the union — only one percent of Vermonters are black. So he may not have the instinctive feel for what African-Americans care about that another politician who had of necessity spent years courting them and working with them would have developed.

But you know who does have that instinctive feel? Hillary Clinton. She spent her political life in Arkansas and New York, where there are plenty of African-Americans. She’s spent more Sundays in black churches than you can count. Toni Morrison famously called her husband the first black president. Yes, there was plenty of tension and ill feelings when black voters left her and got behind Barack Obama in 2008, but I promise you that they’ll be with her in 2016.

But Clinton didn’t attend Netroots Nation this year, and Sanders and O’Malley did, so they’re the ones who got protested, for little reason other than the fact that they were handy. And while they suffered some discomfort, one thing the protesters weren’t demanding was that Democrats vote against either one of them in the primaries. In fact, I’m sure that if you asked the protesters what primary voters should do, they’d say that it’s not their real concern — elections aren’t the point.

Which is where the contrast with Republicans couldn’t be more stark. The Tea Party started just as much as a movement of self-styled outsiders, but unlike activists on the left, they pursued an inside strategy from the outset, one focused clearly on elections. They saw the path to achieving their goals running through Congress and the White House, and they all but took over their party by mounting successful primary challenges to Republican incumbents. How many prominent Democratic incumbents have faced the same kind of strong grassroots challenge from the left in recent years? There was Joe Lieberman, who was beaten in the 2006 Democratic primary in Connecticut by Ned Lamont. But apart from a backbench House member here and there, that’s about it.

In contrast, Republican activists have gotten one prominent scalp after another, from incumbent senators like Richard Lugar and Bob Bennett to important House members like Eric Cantor. The result is that Republican politicians regard their base with barely-disguised terror. You can see it in how they’ve approached Donald Trump, a spectacular buffoon who has tied the party in knots. Even when he was saying one bigoted thing after another about the demographic group the party desperately needs if it’s ever to win back the White House, his opponents stepped gingerly around him, lest they offend his supporters. It was only after Trump’s remarks about John McCain’s war record (which, frankly, he sort of got baited into making) gave them an excuse removed from any policy area that most of them finally started criticizing him.

Even if Trump pulled out of the race tomorrow (sorry, Republicans, no such luck), the rest of the candidates would still operate from fear of their base, which means that activist conservatives will be able to extract commitments from the candidates on the issues that they care about. You can argue that in the long run this hurts the GOP by radicalizing the party and making its presidential candidates unelectable, and you’d probably be right, but in the short run, it probably feels to those conservative activists like success.

The situation on the Democratic side isn’t the same at all. The activists involved in Black Lives Matter and similar efforts would say that they don’t want just to become players in the Democratic Party, because they’re looking to create change on entrenched issues with roots that go back centuries. And they might be right that an outside strategy will be more effective at achieving that change than a strategy focused on making gains within the party. After all, you can argue that while tea partiers have almost taken over the GOP, they’ve gotten very little of the substantive change they wanted — the Affordable Care Act lives, Barack Obama got reelected, and history keeps marching forward despite their efforts, even if they’ve managed to stop things like comprehensive immigration reform.

On the other hand, circumstances will eventually produce another Republican president, even if it isn’t next year or four years after that. And when that president gets elected, the conservative activists will come to collect on the commitments he made.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, July 20, 2015

July 23, 2015 Posted by | Democrats, Netroots Nation, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

   

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