January 26, 2008

When Did Bill Clinton become the First ‘Black’ President?

I now its conventional wisdom to assert the Clintons have strong ties to the African-American community, but Bill Clinton during this 1992 Presidential run under performed with black vote compared to other Democrats.
Back in 1992, the Clintons were decidedly not heroes to black America. Bill ran on a platform of welfare reform. He was tough on crime, and some felt he gratuitously supported the execution of the brain-damaged African American killer Ricky Ray Rector on the eve of the New Hampshire primary. When Clinton scolded the obscure rapper Sister Souljah at a meeting of Jesse Jackson Sr.'s Rainbow Coalition, Jackson called it a "Machiavellian" gambit for white votes. That fall, Clinton carried 82 percent of the black vote--a low sum compared to other Democratic nominees. (In 1988, for instance, Mike Dukakis carried 89 percent of the black electorate.)
In 1996, President Clinton once again under performed with the black vote.
In July 1996, Bill signed a tough welfare-reform bill crafted by the Gingrich Congress. Behind the scenes, Hillary supported his decision--a stance that ruptured her friendship with her one-time mentor, Children's Defense Fund chairwoman Marion Wright Edelman, who called signing the bill "a great moral and practical wrong. " That fall, Clinton was reelected with another deflated 84 percent of the black vote.
When did the African-American community rally around President Clinton?
It wasn't until the Lewinsky scandal that Clinton won over skeptics. Black voters appeared to sympathize with him as the target of a rigged right-wing prosecution and, moreover, feared a conservative power play that might threaten their political interests. On the House floor, Clinton's African American lawyer, Cheryl Mills, even described impeachment as a threat to "civil rights."

At the height of impeachment, in a now-infamous New Yorker essay, Toni Morrison declared Bill "the first black president," saying that he "displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working- class, saxophone-playing, McDonald's-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas."
Under right wing attacks the African-American community stood tall with Bill Clinton when his back was against the wall, but the Clintons has shown wiliness to turn their back to them when it suit their needs.


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