The Dartmouth Observer
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
Clinton Doesn't Concede, Savvy Observers Aren't Surprised.
Listening to Barack Obama speak so eloquently about Hillary Clinton's groundbreaking and ceiling smashing run for President, I was struck by something. I had not even noticed that Hillary Clinton, supposed life long champion for Civil Rights, made no mention of the historic nature of Obama's ability to claim the delegate lead. But should anyone be surprised by her insensitivity and self centeredness? Since their ascendancy to the white house both Clintons have demonstrated their ability to speak to, but not serve, the interests of African Americans. All politicians must pander, but some politicians (ironically those implicated in corrupt machine politics) actually deliver for their most loyal constituents. As I've said earlier, through the darkest days of the Clinton white house and in both elections, African Americans were key, stable, voting blocs throughout the nineties. To paraphrase Dave Chapelle, black people were strucky by Clinton's apparent ease among us, particularly in southern black churches were he clapped on time, swayed with the rhythem, spoke in down home cadences and grabbed and kissed every black skinned baby he could. Yet despite these superficial and cosmetic appeals, Clinton treated the black community as all Democratic candidates do, as a given. When it came down to legislation, particularly the last remaining remnant of Johnson's Great society, AFDC, headstart and a host of federally funded social services uniquely targeted for African American working families, Bill Clinton delivered the black population back to the hands of the states. The very bodies which the federal government fought tooth and nail in the sixties over Jim Crow and the electoral franchise. And then he washed his hands. While the black elite continued to fawn and preen over the "first black president" black single parents suddenly found themselves unprotected by rapacious republican legislatures who took a torch to the nation's social safety net, ratcheted up penalties for petty drug offenses, gave the police carte blanche in violence against black citizens all in the name of "reform" and the "law."
If African Americans had hoped for something different in Senator Clinton's campaign, they were sorely mistaken. Sure it all started well. My good friend travels annually to the Essence festival and was more than pleased by Hillary's keen knowledge on HIV-AIDS impact on black women and resisted all my attempts to bring her to Obama's side until A More Perfect Union. But the instant African American voters began moving towards Obama, Hillary responded with her usual sense of entitlement and her supporters began to question the "loyalty" of the black vote. Loyalty to what exactly? Her husbands disastrous domestic policies for black people? Or to her brief flirtation with the HIV-AIDS issue? In January Hillary began crediting Johnson, rather than the thousands of African Americans who had struggled since the interwar era to organize a national civil rights movement, with the Federal Legislation from the sixties. By March, the Clinton campaign was eagerly fanning the flames of what Geraldine Ferraro has coined, "racial resentment." Distributing flyers of Obama dressed in traditional Muslim garb, touting Obama's inability to win the "working class" in the primaries. The final blow, Clinton's own admission that superdelegates should support her because white voters supported her, the fair conclusion being that African American voters count less than whites do. What's next Hillary, a return to the 3/5ths clause?
So was I surprised by Hillary's failure to talk, even for a moment, about the historical importance of the first African American Presidential nominee? No. Her failure, as a progressive, to share in this moment with those who believe in social justice, falls in line with her inability to understand why black folks are voting for Obama (not against her) in record numbers. Her inability to get what it means to many people to say and type and declare and exclaim! that Barack Hussein Obama is the Democratic Nominee for President.
I recognize that some don't want to "hear about" or contemplate the significance of an African American as Presidential nominee or as President. Though I confess, I can't quite understand why being black and poor also means one has moved beyond being inspired by a major moment in racial progress. Not the victory. Not a victory that restructures economic relations or closes the racial wage gap. But a major victory nonetheless. And, if you take a listen to black media outlets this morning and I suspect throughout the campaign months, not a victory that exclusively reverberates in the black middle class, intelligentsia or the buppies. But a victory that will make generations of young black people, looking for any sign of validation from the larger society that does not include bling and or guns, Barack Obama will be a shining light. Call it earnest, it is. It is also the truth.