Clinton Can't Talk About Republican Hypocrisy

Former President Bill Clinton called the Republicans hypocrites for lambasting Trent Lott while subtly pandering to racial bigotry. Clinton should talk. In May 1991, then presidential candidate Clinton in a keynote address to the centrist Democratic Leadership Council convention in Cleveland, ripped a big page from the political playbook of Republican Presidents Reagan and Bush, Sr. He delivered a bible thumping speech hammering on law and order and Republican-themed family values. After the speech, a group of black delegates accused him of sounding more like a Republican than Republicans.

At the Democratic convention the next year, Clinton repeated the same themes and promised to reject the racial orthodoxy of the left. During the campaign he toured America's heartland pounding home a conservative "values" message aimed at capturing Nixon-Reagan's "silent majority" and "forgotten man." He distanced himself from Jesse Jackson, attacked rapper Sister Souljah for her alleged anti-white remarks after the L.A. riots, and brushed off attacks from black Democrats that he, and white Democratic leaders, were sacrificing their core, black constituents, in a naked grab for white middle-class votes.

Clinton's carbon copy Southern Strategy worked. In the 1984 and 1988 presidential elections, Reagan had swept the six Deep South states. In 1992, and 1996 Clinton snatched two Deep South States and four upper South states back from the Republicans. Though blacks voted overwhelmingly for him, it was white votes that put him over the top in those states. Despite his legendary appearances at black churches, crowded with legions of top black Democrats, Clinton didn't crack the iron clad Republican grip on the white South by charging the barricades on civil rights.

In 1994 Clinton rammed the most wasteful, punitive crime bill in American history through Congress. It gutted funds for drug rehabilitation, prevention, social service, youth employment and job training programs. It added scores of new death penalty provisions to federal law. America's prisons quickly bulged with mostly black and Latino males, many of whom were convicted of non-violent, petty crimes and drug offenses.

When the U.S. Sentencing Commission recommended that the harsh sentences for crack cocaine given to mostly black and Latino offenders and the light hand slap sentences for powdered cocaine given to mostly white offenders be modified or "equalized," Clinton took no action. It took much pressure from the Congressional Black Caucus, and drug reform groups, before Clinton grudgingly agreed that the sentences were racially warped, and should be changed. When Congress refused to accept the recommendations, Clinton did nothing.

In 1995, conservative Republicans claimed that white males were losing ground to minorities, and launched a massive attack on affirmative action programs. Clinton bought their line and promised to end "abuses" in federal government affirmative action programs. Some programs were eliminated and funding for others was drastically scaled back.

In 1996, Clinton radically reshaped the welfare system, but did little to dispel the popular racial and sexual myths that welfare encourages dependency, cheating, laziness, and out of wedlock births, and that the majority of the recipients are mostly poor black women.

In 1997, he raised black hopes that he would be the first president since Lyndon Johnson to do something about racial conflict in America when he appointed a race panel. But his inability or unwillingness to put any political muscle behind the panel's proposals doomed it to be yet another commission whose proposals were quickly forgotten. Clinton also caved in and dumped his nominee, Lani Guinier to head the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and Jocelyn Elders as Surgeon General after they got mild flack from conservative Republicans.

True, Clinton did appoint blacks to several high administration positions, and increased funding for AIDS prevention, minority business, education, and African relief. But Bush's appointees, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice and Rod Paige, hold more important administration posts with far greater policy making power and influence over domestic and foreign policy than Clinton's appointees had. And Bush has also touted minority business, education reform, increased AIDS funding, and African aid.

In the 2000 presidential contest, Democratic contender Al Gore took the cue from Clinton's Southern Strategy. He spent most of his campaign avoiding appearances in black communities, and was stone silent on issues such as urban investment, health care for the uninsured, fixing lousy inner-city public schools, racial profiling, affirmative action, and the gaping disparities in the Clinton administration's racially-marred drug policy.

But the strategy that worked so well for Clinton boomeranged on him. Blacks, frustrated and disgusted with the Democrat's perceived indifference to their interests, stayed away from the polls in droves, and Bush swept the South. In the 2002 elections, blacks continued to stay away from the polls. This cost the Democrats several governorships, and Senate seats in the South.

Clinton rejected the crude, racial appeals of Trent Lott, Jesse Helms, and Strom Thurmond. But his Southern Strategy was jammed with enough racial code speak and indifference to black voters to make him a poor choice to call the Republicans hypocrites.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and columnist. Visit his news and opinion Web site: He is the author of "The Crisis in Black and Black" (Middle Passage Press).


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