The Corner

‘The Only White Man’

One of Bill Clinton’s weaknesses is bragging — outrageous bragging. Why he has to do it, I don’t know. Think of all his worldly achievements: the presidency and so on.

In his first term, he said, “I am the only president who knew something about agriculture when I got there.” And we immediately thought of Carter, Jefferson, and several others. Clinton could easily have said, “I know a thing or two about farming,” but he had to go for the outrageous, and fallacious, brag.

Over the weekend, the New York Times published an article headed “Eye on 2016, Clintons Rebuild Bond With Blacks.” The first paragraph went,

Inside Bright Hope Baptist Church, the luminaries of Philadelphia’s black political world gathered for the funeral of former Representative William H. Gray III in July. Dozens of politicians — city, state and federal — packed the pews as former President Bill Clinton offered a stirring eulogy, quoting Scripture and proudly telling the crowd that he was once described as “the only white man in America who knew all the verses to ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing.’”

He put the brag in someone else’s mouth — but he still repeated it, so it was in his mouth. And the person who “once described” Clinton as “the only white man . . .”? I’m not entirely sure it wasn’t ol’ Billy J. himself.

Just FYI, we had a piece on “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” in 2008. For strange reasons, this great and glorious song made the national news — and this development was the occasion for the essay. So, if you will excuse a little bragging of my own, here it is. An interesting subject, this song.

The idea that Clinton is some Great White Father, or “the first black president,” is important to his self-image, I believe. But image, contrary to the old ad slogan, isn’t everything.

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