Now you know that I don’t like to play around with gotcha journalism and spend hours discussing one comment made by one candidate.
I had a post all ready to write, about how George McGovern, the 1972 Democratic nominee who was soundly defeated by Richard Nixon, changed his endorsement from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama after Obama’s large victory in North Carolina and Clinton’s very slim one in Indiana.
McGovern won the nomination against the will of the party elders at the time, and the whole “superdelegate” idiocy was enacted after his general election loss to ensure that the party leadership never lost control again. (A better strategy, one might have thought, would be to actually throw 100% support behind the candidate chosen by the voters, but what the hell, right?) You can read Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 for a full rundown on McGovern and an unflinching look at another very messy Democratic primary campaign.
But then Hillary Clinton had to go there. She had to actually let the word “white” out of her mouth when discussing her voter base.
See, people had been saying for months that she was running a racially-tinged campaign, starting with Bill Clinton’s Jesse Jackson comments after South Carolina, continuing through Geraldine Ferraro’s “Obama’s lucky to be black” comments, and up to the argument presented to superdelegates that Clinton was somehow more electable because she was drawing working-class voters who might otherwise go for McCain.
But when she finally said, “hardworking voters, white voters,” she dug the rotting corpse of George Wallace up and slung it back into the race.
See, George Wallace ran for president back in 1972 as well. He was also a Democrat, and the governor of Alabama–the famous one who stood in front of the doors of the schoolhouse to prevent black students from enrolling.
Wallace too won the support of white working-class voters with his coded talk about welfare and crime and the freedom of the South. But I spent a good chunk of this morning reading Wallace speeches (and pausing to cringe about every three lines, over fun things like a comparison of Lyndon Johnson’s civil rights bills to Nazi Germany without a trace of irony), and in his inaugural address as Governor, these words came out of his mouth:
“It is very appropriate then that from this Cradle of the Confederacy, this very Heart of the Great Anglo-Saxon Southland, that today we sound the drum for freedom as have our generations of forebears before us done, time and time again through history.”
Of course, Wallace was the king of trying to portray segregation as something that actually benefited both sides. But still, the fact that Hillary Clinton said out loud what even Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan couldn’t should be far more shocking than anything Rev. Wright or Bob Johnson said.
There it is, laid out for the world to see: some people even in 2008 think that black voters don’t count.
I’m knee-deep in David Garrow’s amazing book, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and I’m reading stories about people being assaulted when they attempted to register to vote, of church bombings and police dogs and yes, Governor Wallace. All this stuff happened before I was born–I was a Reagan baby–but not that far before. Hillary Clinton remembers those days, as do my parents. As do the voters in rural Pennsylvania, which had the largest population outside Florida of people who were old enough to have voted for Wallace.
I don’t think that Hillary Clinton genuinely has anything against black people. What I do think has been shown is that she only cares about demographic voter blocs as far as they are going for her. And it’s almost worse to wonder, like I do about her Iraq war vote and the gas tax pander, if she really believes this stuff or if she’s just really willing to say and do anything to win. I see her first two qualifiers as verbal hesitation marks, the shallow wounds some suicides make before they actually take the plunge. I wonder if inside her head she was trying to work up the courage to throw it out there, that last line that maybe enough people would grab to pull her to the nomination.
Hillary Clinton is not stupid. She is a very smart woman, one who has been very successful all her life and has made plenty of money and garnered plenty of power.
She knows what she said when she said this.
And, as this blog explains very well, when a politician speaks, you can almost always add to the end of their sentence “And that’s a reason you should vote for me,” the same way people add “in bed” to the end of a fortune cookie fortune.
So when Hillary Clinton says that Obama has a problem with hardworking white voters, she knows that she’s both implying that only white voters are hardworking–a line that may resonate with some people, but probably not nearly as many as she needs to win the nomination–but also implying that because she is the one winning those voters, she should be the nominee. In other words, that the black voters supporting Obama do not count.
The insinuation is that black voters will vote Democrat anyway. News for you, Clinton: black voters only voted Democrat because the Democratic party at least pretended to care about them. Because John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson threw away the racist vote in favor of the black vote back in the 60s. They left themselves open to attacks from the George Wallaces of the world, but they did, slowly but surely, come around to supporting civil rights. Martin Luther King never endorsed a political party or a candidate, and his father had been a lifelong Republican.
Hillary Clinton compared herself to Lyndon Johnson earlier this primary season. The insinuation was that it took a (white) president to enact civil rights legislation. But at this point, she seems more interested in dismantling Johnson’s crowning achievement than supporting it, more interested in discounting the votes of certain people than winning all of them. Johnson and Kennedy may have supported civil rights legislation in part because of the votes it could bring them, but at least they understood that they owed something back to those voters who helped put them in office.
Does anyone who saw John McCain’s performance on the anniversary of King’s death think that McCain wouldn’t try his hardest to woo black voters if superdelegates did overturn Obama’s majority of pledged delegates? Or that black voters, tired of a legacy of being told that they are 3/5 of a person, that their votes don’t count, that they need to wait their turn, wouldn’t do what King told Johnson he would do, saying, “[Johnson] feels we have nowhere to go, but we can certainly stay home.”
Hillary Clinton started off with a large percentage of black support, combined with her white working-class, women, and Latino base. Her black support has eroded far faster than any of the rest of her base, though, and we can clearly see why. Yes, Obama has racked up his largest margins of victory in states with large black populations, but Clinton could have hung on to some of that black support she enjoyed. She didn’t.
Note we don’t see her appealing to the fact that she wins hardworking Latino voters repeatedly. Perhaps because as The Nation noted, her coalition rests on slightly uneasy footing, attracting both anti-immigrant whites and the immigrants they fear.
And another blogger noted that Hillary Clinton is not only playing to the Wallace crowd with these comments. She’s also dredging up another famous white American, one who is normally remembered with much higher regard: Susan B. Anthony.
After black men were given the vote by the 15th Amendment, Anthony was angered that women, black and white, were not included. Instead of making the argument that it was unfair to include only part of the population and trying to maintain her alliance with the Equal Rights Association, Anthony claimed that white women would be better voters than “ignorant” black men.
No matter who Clinton was channeling when she made this comment, it’s not one that can be written off as a one-time slip of the tongue, a “misspeak” like her comments on Bosnia. It’s become a pattern of her campaign, and when her strategy is to appeal to superdelegates that despite being behind in the popular vote, the delegate count, and the superdelegate count now, she is more electable because, in essence, her racist supporters won’t vote for Obama, it must be called out for what it is.
Race-baiting. No amount of spin can change that.
And this hardworking white American is completely disgusted that she’s come to this.
(Want more? The truly excellent blog Racialicious has plenty for you.)
Reader mail can go to sarah.jaffe-at-gmail.com. Please include “Political Buzz” in the subject line or it may go to junk mail!