April 17, 2008

Why Clinton’s Jeremiah Wright Strategy Failed

By David A. Love
Published by The Black Commentator
April 17, 2008

It is fitting that Lanny J. Davis - former special counsel to President Bill Clinton and supporter of presidential candidate, Senator Hillary Clinton, chose the right-wing editorial page of the Wall Street Journal once again to attack Dr. Jeremiah Wright, Sen. Barack Obama’s pastor and mentor.

And it reflects the actions of a desperate campaign eager to use the time-honored race card, but this time few are listening.

In an April 9, 2008 editorial titled, Obama’s Minister Problem, Davis erroneously argued that Obama still has questions to answer regarding his ties to the “extremist” pastor, and that this is a problem that will not go away.

Enlisting the help of the Journal’s editorial page, Davis has found a willing and eager participant in the racial scapegoating of an African American man with a long record of service to his country and to his community. For the far-right Wall Street Journal, along with the New York Post, its sister publication, and Fox News - all a part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation empire - trashing Black people is their bread and butter.

This is particularly true of the “fair and balanced” Fox News, with their daily racist tirades against people of color, on the air and on their website. In a recent post to the Fox News website, where comments are moderated, one person declared: “You blacks would be naked and eating bugs if it weren’t for white people. Name ONE successful society started by blacks. Any sign of civilization in Africa was started by Europeans. Any city in America with predominately black leaders is a cesspool. Look at New Orleans, Philadelphia, D.C., Detroit…”

Another person commented: “No wonder most whites have the opinion that blacks are worthless, lazy sloths who know only how to make more babies and steal everything not nailed down. Barak (sic) Lenin Obama, the big eared Muslim, is only fostering this “wo is me” attitude with his obvious prejudices. I, for one, like my white race over that of any other, so does that make me a racist? I don’t thing so. The black man will not break free from his self-imposed shackles until he picks himself up, dusts himself off and begins to provide for himself just like every other race has done who came to this country. Before the blacks can do this, however, they have to rid themselves of the likes of Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Farakan (sic), and the good reverend Wright.”

So, it is no surprise that the right-wing media would take the opportunity to race bait. And in the 24-hour news cycle of cable television, stories such as the Wright “controversy” are promoted for their entertainment value and the advertising revenue they can generate.

And in presidential politics, the Republican Party’s Southern Strategy - winning elections by appealing to White nationalism and White racial anxieties - has helped many a politician up the political ladder. In his 1988 presidential bid against Michael Dukakis, George Bush Sr. used the infamous Willie Horton ad. Horton, a convicted murderer, was the embodiment of the menacing Black man. After being released from prison on a furlough, while Dukakis was governor of Massachusetts, Horton raped a White woman.

In the 2000 presidential primaries, Bush Jr.’s campaign spread rumors that his then-rival, Senator John McCain, fathered a Black baby out of wedlock. Oddly, in his second quest for the presidency eight years later, McCain embraces Bush, an unpopular president who has waged an equally unpopular war in Iraq.

To the cynical race-card dealer, operating under the old political paradigm, Barack Obama should have provided the perfect target. After all, he is a Black man with Black affiliations running for the nation’s highest office, and blackness scares some Whites. The Clinton campaign, knowing their candidate could not take the nomination from an ascendant Obama except through graft, placed their hopes in conjuring an image of his wild-eyed, hate-spewing, anti-American, anti-White, and anti-Semitic B lack preacher.

But this time, it didn’t work. And the frustration is reflected in Davis’ embarrassing and unfortunate Wall Street Journal tirade.

To be sure, vast reservoirs of racism still exist in the United States. There are some voters in this country who do not like Black people, and will not vote for a person of color, nor anyone who is not a White man, for that matter. But given that those votes never were for the taking, let us focus on the real issue at hand. Obama’s campaign is bringing millions of new people into the process, a multiracial and intergenerational coalition of democrats, republicans, independents, and young people. For these voters, the racial buttons simply are not working. And for young people in particular, who did not grow up in a segregated America, they do not share the bigoted hang-ups of their parents. A generation of Whites who grew up listening to and embracing Public Enemy is not fazed by this notion of righteous Black anger a la Jeremiah Wright. In fact, many who have lived under the injustices of the Bush regime, the worst administration in American history, must share Dr. Wright’s sense of indignation. Perhaps, forty years after The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, Black rage, justified and historically contextual, is not so foreign and shocking a concept to mainstream America. And since when did anger, filled with constructive criticism and a patriotic demand that one’s country do better, amount to hatred? It is far easier to paint the truth-teller as a loathsome crackpot - and compel African American leaders to repudiate their own in the process - than to deal with the sobering realities they articulate.

Wright said “We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye. We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost.”

In his rant, Davis claims that “If my rabbi ever uttered such hateful words from the pulpit about America and declared all Palestinians to be terrorists, I have no doubt I would have withdrawn immediately from his congregation.”

Interestingly, Wright’s words on American foreign policy were inspired by Ambassador Edward Peck, retired career diplomat who was chief of the U.S. mission to Iraq under President Carter. Peck’s words, in turn, were inspired by Malcolm X’s 1963 “Chickens Coming Home to Roost” speech, which placed the assassination of President Kennedy within the context of America’s role as a purveyor of violence. Malcolm, of course, was vilified in life and labeled a hatemonger, yet was commemorated with a U.S. postage stamp in death.

Rev. Wright said “The government…wants us to sing God Bless America. No, no, no. God damn America; that's in the bible, for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human.” Lest we become guilty of historical amnesia, Dr. King, when he was assassinated, was working on a Sunday sermon entitled “Why America May Go To Hell.” In the sermon, King wrote that “If America does not use her vast resources of wealth to end poverty, to make it possible for all of God's children to have the basic necessities of life, she too will go to Hell.”

In his April 30, 1967 sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church titled, “Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam,” King declared: “And don't let anybody make you think that God chose America as his divine, messianic force to be a sort of policeman of the whole world. God has a way of standing before the nations with judgment, and it seems that I can hear God saying to America, ‘You're too arrogant! And if you don't change your ways, I will rise up and break the backbone of your power, and I'll place it in the hands of a nation that doesn't even know my name. Be still and know that I'm God.’”

The Dr. King who called for a revolution of values against the triple threats of racism, materialism and militarism, was a far cry from the watered-down image of the innocuous dreamer which today’s mass media have created. In his 1967 book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, King wrote, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” Perhaps if Dr. King were alive today, Lanny Davis would ask us to repudiate him, and disassociate ourselves from his hateful, divisive speech.

Some people say that all is fair in politics. Unfortunately, the race card has been an accepted part of politics for years, primarily because that’s the way people liked it. The politics of division worked because of the willingness of bitter and frustrated working-class Whites to act against their own self interests, placing racial solidarity with White elites above economic solidarity with struggling Americans of all backgrounds. The emergence of the Rev. Wright issue as a non-issue - and the public rejection of Clinton’s attempts to render Wright the boogeyman, shows that all is not lost, and perhaps issues really do matter.

No comments: