After black Americans gave 92 percent of their votes to Al Gore last November, you’d think Democrats would treat them better than the doormat at the party clubhouse. From City Hall to the White House, blacks are the Democrats’ most loyal constituency. But several recent sleights from America’s most prominent Democrats demonstrate how little appreciation party elders show black Americans after the ballots have been counted.
Case in point: Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia dropped a depth charge on last Sunday’s Fox News Channel with Tony Snow. Asked about the state of race relations today, Byrd replied, “I think we talk about race too much. I think those problems are largely behind us.” Byrd continued: “My old mom told me, ‘Robert, you can’t go to heaven if you hate anybody.’ We practice that. There are white niggers. I’ve seen a lot of white niggers in my time; I’m going to use that word.”
Fox News Sunday immediately aired a mea culpa that Byrd’s office crafted after the taped interview. “I apologize for the characterization I used on this program,” Byrd’s statement declared. “I had no intention of casting aspersions on anyone of another race. In my attempt to articulate strongly held feelings, I may have offended people…”.
Yes, Senator, you may have done so.
It is amazing that the United States Senate’s most senior Democrat — who has served there since 1959 — did not choose his words more cautiously, again, if only not to annoy his party’s most dependable supporters. Even if he meant to use an archaic term for “white trash,” denigrating such people with the cruelest of anti-black epithets just defames both groups of Americans.
Interestingly enough, a Nexis search of major newspapers retrieved just four stories about Byrd’s comment on Monday and zero Tuesday morning.
Nexis unearthed no coverage of Byrd’s remarks in America’s so-called “paper of record,” the New York Times. Meanwhile, this story was page-two news in Monday’s New York Post.
Compare that with the 20 second-day articles that popped up in 1995 when Dick Armey referred to gay Democratic congressman Barney Frank as “Barney Fag.” (Armey later called it a slip of the tongue.) The Gray Lady did consider that news fit to print.
Byrd also called “a mistake” his long-ago membership in the Ku Klux Klan. How many Republicans could get away with discussing their previous involvement in the KKK while deliberately using the word “niggers” twice in one TV interview? Answer: zero.
Scrape, scrape. Another Democrat stomps on the party’s doormat.
In early February, former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson ran for Democratic National Committee chairman. Jackson, who is black, had the support of much of the Congressional Black Caucus. But despite blacks’ deep affection for Democrats, allowing one of them to run the DNC apparently was asking too much.
Terry McAuliffe, a major party fundraiser, was Bill and Hillary Clinton’s handpicked choice for the job. He “was anointed without our participation,” Rep. Maxine Waters (D., Calif.) complained to the Los Angeles Times in mid-January. “The time is over when Democratic leaders can disregard the tremendous role of the African American and progressive vote… We’ve got to be a part of the decision-making.”
Fat chance. McAuliffe crushed Jackson’s candidacy, which did not even come up for a vote. Jackson was given the consolation prize of national development chairman. Then McAuliffe poured rock salt in Jackson’s supporters’ wounds when he called blacks “colored people” in a speech to the DNC in February. He later explained that he had meant to say “people of color.” Oops.
Scrape, scrape. McAuliffe stepped on the Democratic doormat on his way into his new office.
But the biggest boots of all belong to none other than William Jefferson Clinton. As he decided to lease office space on 125th Street last month, Clinton told reporters: “Harlem is the perfect place for me to be. I’m close to the Apollo Theater. I’m close to soul food. I feel like I’m home.” He appeared last Saturday at the NAACP Image Awards in Los Angeles. “That’s why I went to Harlem,” Clinton told the adoring crowd, “because I think I am the first black president.”
What odd and insulting comments.
Imagine if Colin Powell moved into the Watergate apartment complex in Washington, D.C., and stated, “I’m across the street from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. I’m within blocks of bistros and around the corner from an oyster bar. I think I am the most recent white secretary of state.” Would anyone find that cute or funny?
If Clinton loves soul food so much, why did he first try to occupy an $800,000-per-year office at Carnegie Tower, right by the Russian Tea Room on Manhattan’s West 57th Street, 68 blocks south of his second-choice headquarters? Perhaps he heard the RTR served chitling blintzes.
As for his absurd claim that he thinks he is black, Clinton presumably has read the words of Nobel-prize-winning author Toni Morrison, who originally dubbed him “our first black president” in a September 1998 New Yorker essay. “Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness,” Morrison explained: “single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas.” Does Clinton agree with these stereotypes? Does he eat watermelon and shine shoes, too?
In fact, Clinton grew up white in the Jim Crow South. His first political mentor was J. William Fulbright, Arkansas’s Democratic senator and an avowed segregationist. While Clinton usually is more enlightened than Fulbright, the former president took a sentimental journey back to the late 1950s when he golfed at the Indian Creek Country Club in South Florida last month. Indian Creek has no black members and just a handful of Jews. But why should a dose of anti-black sentiment and anti-Semitism stymie his swing?
Sure, President Clinton visited black churches and presided over a contentious “national dialogue on race,” vainly claiming to have brought the matter to the republic’s attention, as if Americans had not debated the issue since the Three-Fifths Compromise. So what? On matters of policy, Clinton did poorly by blacks.
Education? Clinton twice vetoed bills to grant vouchers to children in Washington, D.C.’s predominantly black government schools. Although private scholarship programs have lengthy waiting lists, Clinton stood in the schoolhouse door, effectively preventing these boys and girls from studying where they actually might learn something.
Racial profiling? While many blacks have denounced this police technique, Clinton never proposed legislation to Congress to curb it.
Blacks in prison? If Abraham Lincoln is the Great Emancipator, Bill Clinton is the Great Jailer. As a Justice Policy Institute study outlined last month, the number of prisoners in state and federal institutions grew by 478,800 during President Ronald Reagan’s two terms. Through both of Clinton’s terms, 673,000 Americans were sent behind bars. Even worse, the rate of incarceration for black men — which stood at 2,800 per 100,000 as Reagan left office — mushroomed under Clinton to 3,620 per 100,000.
Equal justice? Dozens of Clinton’s wealthy, well-connected friends and supporters sprang from jail, thanks to his prolific pardon pen, even as thousands of poor, anonymous blacks remain locked up. Carlos Vignali — the California-based cocaine distributor whose drug ring shipped 800 pounds of coke from Los Angeles to Minneapolis — won a commutation from Clinton after his Argentine-born father made $160,000 in political contributions, mainly to Democrats, and paid Hugh Rodham $200,000 to steer the matter onto Clinton’s desk. Vignali now walks free as his 30 mostly black co-defendants either languish in their jail cells or survive in the shadows of their rap sheets.
There’s no doubt that Democrats like Lyndon Johnson did important things for black folks by ending segregation, even as then-Senator Albert Gore Sr. (D., Tenn.) opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and South Carolina’s former Democratic governor Ernest Hollings hoisted the Confederate flag atop the Palmetto State’s capitol building. Since then, Democrats have trapped poor black children in failing government schools while binding black entrepreneurs with red tape.
Yes, Republicans and conservatives could appeal more effectively to black Americans. Still, President Bush’s appointments of Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice are but two powerful examples of his willingness to reach out to blacks. (It took Republicans Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush to appoint the first black — in each case Powell — as NSC advisor and secretary of state, respectively.) If Democrats simply would stop stepping on blacks for a while, they just might notice this hand of friendship being extended from the Right.