Friday, January 11, 2008

The Race Card and the Gender Card

UPDATE: The New York Times has a front-page article this morning, entitled, "Race and Gender Issues Erupt In a Tense day for Democrats." This is getting ugly, folks.

I have to respond to a comment in the article made by Geraldine Ferraro:

“As soon anybody from the Clinton campaign opens their mouth in a way that could make it seem as if they were talking about race, it will be distorted,” Mrs. Ferraro said. “The spin will be put on it that they are talking about race.”
This remark is untrue and unbecoming of Ferraro, if you ask me. So far, Obama and his supporters have responded to very specific comments made by the Clintons or their campaign people. 1) Andrew Cuomo saying you can't "shuck and jive" at a press conference. 2) Hillary's comment about Martin Luther King. 3) The reprehensible email sent out by a Clinton campaign staffer in Iowa claiming Obama was secretly a Muslim who studied in a Madrasa and used the Koran at his swearing-in ceremony. 4) A questionable comment made by Billy Shaheen, the co-chairman of Hillary Clinton's campaign in New Hampshire about Obama's drug use. (Shaheen was fired afterwards.) 5) A comment made yesterday by Bob Johnson, one of Hillary's biggest African-American supporters, suggesting that Obama may have been dealing drugs. 6) Bill Clinton's comment about Obama's campaign being a "fairy tale."

According to Ferraro, it sounds like Obama and his supporters are just supposed to keep their mouths shut if the Clintons make questionable comments that could be insulting to people of color.

ORIGINAL POST: A series of statements by Hillary and Bill Clinton have ignited controversy within the African-American community. In my previous post, I mentioned Hillary's comment about Martin Luther King and Lyndon Johnson, and it has - unsurprisingly - grown into a much bigger issue in the last 48 hours.

But that's not the only statement that has upset African-Americans, and some are now claiming a purposeful attempt on the part of the Clinton campaign to introduce the race card into the 2008 Election. While I thought that race would raise its ugly head in the presidential campaign, I'm a little surprised that it's becoming an issue in the Democratic Primaries, rather than in the general election.

Like others, I was stunned by Hillary's comment that "Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. . . . It took a president to get it done." (Here's a video of her making the comment.)

By itself, at any other time, that would be a stunningly stupid remark. Kind of like "Jesus' dream began to be realized when Pontius Pilate passed the Crucifixion Order. . . . It took a Roman governor to get it done." Johnson and Kennedy, left to their own devices, would never have done anything for the blacks without the pressure of King and the civil rights movement. Not when so much of the Democratic Party at that time was made up of racist southern whites.

But to make this statement when running against an African-American candidate, especially just before a primary vote in South Carolina, where 50% of the Democratic voters are black, seems incomprehensibly dumb. It's also a strange thing to say in an election where the public has made it clear that it distrusts politicians and wants a big change. Hillary seems to be saying that it wasn't really a courageous black minster who brought about a change in civil rights, but a white politician.

My first thought was: How could the Clintons - so expert in politics - do something so colossally dumb and seemingly amateurish?

Needless to say, the remark didn't go down well with African-Americans.

Yesterday, the New York Times, with a front-page headline, "Clinton's Comments Annoy a Black Leader," (the title differs on the web), reported that the highest ranking African-American in Congress, Rep. James E. Clyburn, from South Carolina, found the remark "as distorting civil rights history" and was reconsidering his neutral stance in the primary.
“We have to be very, very careful about how we speak about that era in American politics,” said Mr. Clyburn, who was shaped by his searing experiences as a youth in the segregated South and his own activism in those days. “It is one thing to run a campaign and be respectful of everyone’s motives and actions, and it is something else to denigrate those. That bothered me a great deal.”
The New York Sun, in its article "Slight of King Could Linger for Voters," reported on other reactions among African-American political figures:
Assemblyman Karim Camara, a Democrat who represents Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and who is supporting Mr. Obama, said, "I got calls from constituents and from other elected officials and from pastors who were surprised." . . .

Mrs. Clinton's words could affect the outcome of the campaign, particularly in the religious community. King, after all, was not only a black leader but an ordained minister.

"I believe churches are very sensitive to the language we use," Mr. Camara said. "This can have a tremendous impact in increasing their level of churches in going out and supporting Senator Obama." . . .

"I thought her comments were not only out of line but it seemed to me to be desperate and a misreading of history," the executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, Michael Meyers, said. "To say that President Lyndon Johnson was the one who did that when we know he could not do that without President Kennedy's assassination and death and the change in the national mood on civil rights is astonishingly ignorant." He added that the statement was also "ignorant of the participation of everyday people, including Dr. King."

The debate could get additional mileage with the approach of Martin Luther King Day, a federal holiday that this year is observed Monday, January 21. A national spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality, Niger Innis, attributed Mrs. Clinton's statement to her determination to block Mr. Obama's rise and save the nomination for herself. "It seems to me Hillary was trying anything to stop the momentum that seemed unstoppable until yesterday at 10 o'clock," Mr. Innis said.

And the comment wasn't getting any better play among African-American bloggers. In Hillary and Bill Clinton Invoke "Race Card" Into 2008 U.S. Presidential Campaign, African American Political Pundit wrote:
This is not the first time the Clinton's actually invoked race into the contest to beat Obama. It's unfortunate that "Team Clinton" have been able to inject racial tension into what should have been — and still should be — an uplifting contest. They have actually implemented a strategy of racial divide. As reported in the blog A Moderate Voice and Jack and Jack and Jill Politics, The Clinton's have used very cloaked racial terms, comparing Obama to MLK while Hillary Clinton was LBJ who, you know, was the one who actually got things done. The Clinton's also have their buddy Andrew Cuomo out there acting a fool saying to Obama: 'You Can't Shuck And Jive' at a press conf. Now Team Clinton is going south in order to explain to black voters that if they, black voters, have the audacity to hope that Obama will be the real first black President, black voters dreams and Obama 's audity to run for President is nothing but a “Fantasy.”
As AAPP mentioned, it wasn't just the King-Johnson comment, but a series of recent statments that have raised suspicion among African-Americans. From Ben Smith's Politico article, "Racial tensions roil Democratic race":
“A cross-section of voters are alarmed at the tenor of some of these statements,” said Obama spokeswoman Candice Tolliver, who said that Clinton would have to decide whether she owed anyone an apology.

“There’s a groundswell of reaction to these comments — and not just these latest comments but really a pattern, or a series of comments that we’ve heard for several months,” she said. “Folks are beginning to wonder: Is this really an isolated situation, or is there something bigger behind all of this?” . . . .

“For him to go after Obama, using a ‘fairy tale,’ calling him as he did last week, it's an insult. And I will tell you, as an African-American, I find his tone and his words to be very depressing,” Donna Brazile, a longtime Clinton ally who is neutral in this race, said on CNN earlier this week.

Asked in an e-mail from Politico about the situation Friday, she responded by sending over links to five cases in which the Clintons and their surrogates talked about Obama, along with a question: “Is Clinton using a race-baiting strategy against Obama?”
Pretty strong language coming from a "longtime Clinton ally."

Barbara Jordan (1936-1996) - From Houston, Texas - the first African-American woman from the south to be elected to Congress.

There's also an uncomfortable feeling that the battle between Clinton and Obama could begin to turn on an axis of gender versus race.

This week, Gloria Steinem wrote an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times entitled, "Women Are Never Front-Runners," in which she said:
"Black men were given the vote a half-century before women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot, and generally have ascended to positions of power, from the military to the boardroom, before any women (with the possible exception of obedient family members in the latter)."
Which led blogger Angry Black Bitch to respond in "I'm Worried Too, Ms. Steinem...":
I think of the women and men in my family who were not extended the protected vote until 1965. I wince at the lack of acknowledgment for the black women of Birmingham, Selma and Montgomery who had to march with their brothers in the 1960s to attain the vote because the suffrage movement abandoned them in a Southern strategy to get the vote in 1920. . . .

This isn’t an easy post to write. I am a proud black feminist who holds a deep respect for feminist leaders and has done a lot of inner work to come to terms with feminism’s history with race and class.

Yeah, this is not an easy post to write...but a sistah’s got to do what a sistah’s got to do. . . .

After reading Steinem’s Op-Ed I felt if black and woman can’t exist in the same body. I felt undocumented…as if the history of blacks and the history of women have nothing to do with the history of black women. . . .

When I consider Steinem's “So why is the sex barrier not taken as seriously as the racial one?” I’m left confused.

What country does Gloria live in where race barriers are taken seriously? I’d love to know…shit, maybe I’ll move there. But I’m a black woman and this is America where none of my barriers are given more than a token consideration and I’ll present this Op-Ed as exhibit A in that argument.

Steinem goes on to say, “I’m not advocating a competition for who has it toughest. The caste systems of sex and race are interdependent and can only be uprooted together. That’s why Senators Clinton and Obama have to be careful not to let a healthy debate turn into the kind of hostility that the news media love. Both will need a coalition of outsiders to win a general election. The abolition and suffrage movements progressed when united and were damaged by division; we should remember that.”

But this article is soaked in the fluid of competition. It reeks of frustration that I fear is born from a place of entitlement even though it is dressed in the language of the oppressed. And I’ll point out again, the suffrage movement progressed without racial or true class unity and many a sister were damaged by that division.

We should remember that, but first we have to know it.

What worries me is that Gloria bought that bullshit about Obama’s race being a unifying factor. C’mon now, these are early dates yet and campaign operatives have already taken a dip in the race baiting pool. Not for one second do I believe that the unifying power of Senator Obama’s blackness will not eventually collide with the same elegant condescension contained in Steinem's Op-Ed.

What worries me is that this is kind of article that makes some black women wary of feminism…wary of the sisterhood…because eventually, just give it time, it will all come down to black and white or women and men with black women vanished from the equation.

What worries me is the ease with which Ms. Steinem tossed out the insult of implying that Iowans, when faced with a black male candidate, went with that candidate because they are somehow more comfortable with black male leadership than female leadership. It begs the question how John Edwards failed to win by a landslide.

What worries me is that the author is frustrated that Obama hasn’t been accused of playing the race card for his civil rights references and feels that Hillary is getting a raw deal when she gets accused of playing the gender card. Let’s keep it real…Steinem is just frustrated about that race card because a black man is supposed to get called on that shit and she didn’t give permission for any rule change.

What worries me is the patronizing tone with which Steinem dismisses the choices of young women voters. Is it any wonder that young women pause before embracing the feminist movement? Steinem concludes that young women are not radical yet. Will she conclude the same of black women should Clinton lose South Carolina?

I agree with Ms. Steinem that we have to be able to say that we are supporting her, a woman candidate, "because she would be a great president and because she is a woman."

But we also have to be able to say I’m not supporting her because I’ve evaluated her and examined her resume without being labeled a victim or self hating or not radical enough or not feminist enough or easily dazzled by great oratory skills or more black than woman or just too darn stupid to do what Ms. Steinem thinks we should do.
I find the the possibility that race and gender could be played off each other in the Democratic primaries to be profoundly disturbing. (Though not entirely surprising.) Maybe it's good practice for the general election. If either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama receives the nomination, it's only going to get worse when the Republicans come after them. But this would be a particularly ugly situation if race and gender issues keep coming up "within the family." The last thing the Democrats need is to batter each other in such an undignified way in the primaries.

I've made it clear that I don't really like Hillary and Bill Clinton. I've tried my best to give her a fair shake, reading her book so that I could understand her better, looking for the good aspects in her as a candidate - her experience, her genuine concern for women and children. But I believe the burden of responsibility falls squarely on the Clintons right now. I'm not ready to say that the race card or gender card are being used on purpose because they're freaking out over Obama's success. But for a privileged white woman in a position of power to make a needlessly stupid remark that denigrates Martin Luther King is a major concern. For another priveleged white woman and Clinton supporter, Gloria Steinem, writing in the nation's paper of record in a way that does seem to pit race against gender is a major concern. For a white former president to call an African-American candidate's campaign a "fairy tale" is a major concern.

There was absolutely no reason for Hillary to use the Martin Luther King-Lyndon Johnson relationship as a means of stressing the importance of political experience. She could've brought up thousands of other examples. There's absolutely no reason for Gloria Steinem to bring up race in a competitive way when writing about the real problem of sexism. Even if these moves weren't intentional, they were both stupid and disrespectful, not just of African-Americans but of all people of color who've had to struggle their entire lives in this country, and in some cases been lynched, burned to death, raped, tortured or murdered trying to bring about change. If not the worst of political ploys, they show disregard and ignorance on the part of privileged white people in power.

In that light, whatever my reservations about Barack Obama, I much prefer his talk of working together with hope to bring about needed change. Maybe it is naive in the political process, but it's a far better alternative than cynically playing the race card or the gender card, or being too out-of-touch with ordinary people of whatever beautiful color who yearn to live the lives that we were ALL created to live.

On that note, I'll let Martin finish out . . .
With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:
My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride,

From every mountainside, let freedom ring!
And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.


Liam said...

The MLK/LBJ comment was straight-out weird. I don't think it was part of a strategy, it's just too dumb -- it was probably a result of stress. It will cost her, though, and other things (Cuomo's comment, the drug-dealing accusation, etc.) were more conscious.

I respect Steinman in general, but I really didn't like her article. I think it was very insensitive on the question of race. I think ABB nailed her on that.

cowboyangel said...

You're probably right about the MLK comment not being part of a strategy per se, but I did get the feeling that it was scripted. For some reason, I just don't think you come up with that analogy off the top of your head. Obama has mentioned King a lot, and I get the feeling that someone in the Clinton camp had come up with the analogy and Hillary was waiting for the right opportunity to drop the remark. To take a dig at Obama for bringing up King a lot, deflate the "Hope" message - which, they've really been trying to do; that was the essence of Bill's "fairy tale" comment - and highlight the experience issue again.

I thought ABB's response was both powerful and poignant. She has a pretty funny and interesting blog, actually.

Jeff said...

Well, this is just the sort of scorched-earth policy that the Clintons adopt when they feel like they're under pressure. They need to kill their enemies. All "war room" and counter-punch all the time. I just listened to a highly contentious Meet the Press interview between Tim Russert and Hillary Clinton this morning. She didn't make things much better from what I could see.

This is sad, ludicrous, and so unneccessary. It's the last thing the Democrats needed - looking to the bitter past in a race that looked like it was heading in a promising way towards the future. She should have just enjoyed her windfall and kept her mouth shut. Before Iowa, people expected Clinton to win easily in NH. The media jumped the shark after Iowa and saddled Obama with unreasonable coronation status. She wins by a couple of points (less than what had originally been expected, pre-Iowa) and looks like the new Clinton comeback-kid. So now, with all that momentum shift going her way, just as they head South, she does this. It's inexplicable, especially considering that she should have her own sense of savvy by now, and Bill offers expert politival counsel every step of the way. Are Carville and Begala back on board yet? I have a hard time believing that this would have happened if they had been around.

When the Clintons were in the White House, Bill was often called "the first black president." I wonder if this incident will put some of that reputation into doubt. Will it hurt her? Who knows... Who knows how long people pay attention to anything nowadays. They might catch a break in that it's a weekend news cycle adn the NFL playoffs are going on.

cowboyangel said...

This is sad, ludicrous, and so unneccessary. It's the last thing the Democrats needed - looking to the bitter past in a race that looked like it was heading in a promising way towards the future.

Jeff, I couldn't agree with you more. But I guess it's not surprising, given that it's the first time a party might nominate a black or a woman for president. Unchartered territory. Still, if they don't want to give the Republicans lots of fodder for the general election, they had better find a way to smooth things over. Obama needs to find a way to pursue the high road while responding to any racial comments. The Clintons . . . well . . . Trying to be positive and open-minded, I would like to give them the benefit of the doubt, but I fear what you mention; "the scorched-earth policy." I don't know if they are capable of sticking to the high road. so the burden may rest solely on Obama. And on the other candidates to keep things civil.

As for Bill being the first "black president," I always wondered how blacks actually felt about that phrase. It's pretty condescending - you can't have your own president, so a white man will have to do. While reading some African-American political blogs, it turns out - not surprisingly - that some of them are offended by that.

Liam said...

Wasn't it Toni Morrison who first called him that?

Liam said...

Are you sure the email is from Clinton supporters? The original story about the "madrassa" appeared in a magazine published by the Washington Times. The article claimed that the story came from the Clinton campaign, but it seemed to me at the time that it was a right-wing attack that tried to kill two birds at one time.

Liam said...

That said, Ferraro's comments are part of a larger strategy in the Clinton campaign to pretend their missteps with the question of race are only "spin" from the Obama camp. It's very misleading, and if Clinton does get the nomination, I will be happy to vote in New York so I can vote against her (though not for the GOP) without any electoral college repercussions.

cowboyangel said...

Was it Morrison? I don't know. Even more ironic. All I know is that some African-American bloggers didn't seem amused. I saw things from putting the phrase in quotes to outright condemnation.

As for the Obama-Muslim smear, I belive you're thinking of the original story that broke right after he announced last January. But last month, an "Iowa county chair volunteering for Hillary" sent out an email rehashing the whole story. See TPM story and Bob Herbert's column from this past Saturday, "Hope and Politics." (Interesting column for, among other things, Herbert chastising Obama for acting cocky recently.)

I tell you man, as the day wore on, and I read bits and pieces here and there, and thought about things, I'm beginning to believe that there's a very orchestrated effort on the part of the Clintons to stir these things up. I'm pretty disturbed by the whole situation, especially nasty and vicious comments being made at Huffington Post, Daily Kos and other places saying things like this just proves that the blacks get upset by anything. The race card perfectly at work. Among Democrats. They sound like yahoo Republican racists. This is really not a good development for the Democrats.

This is all beginning to feel very Karl Rovian.

Liam said...

I thought Bob Herbert was just referring to the Bob Kerrey comment.

TPM didn't explain how they knew it was from the Clinton people. This email has been going around for awhile. I'm certainly not defending the Clintons, but I'm not sold on the idea that its coming from them -- though on a less obvious level, they are definitely stirring things up. Romelle and I have been talking about it -- it could really backfire in South Carolina.

How brave you are to venture through Daily Kos in these times. What's it like? Who do they want now that it seems unlikely that Al Gore will come riding in on a white horse.

cowboyangel said...

Oh, yeah, I forgot about the Kerrey comment. That was nice.

I don't see anything in Herbert's column that makes me think he's talking about Kerrey. I think he's referring to the email from the guy in Iowa. If you don't like TPM and Bob H, how about The Nation, Atlantic Monthly and Politico?

Personally, I wouldn't trust Ben Smith at Politico that much. He's already screwed up on some pretty big stories. But you can decide for yourself. True, all of this circles back to DailyKos. What does it all mean? Kind of an interesting case study in the New Media, no? I guess you and I could call up the guy in the Dodd campaign and ask him ourselves. Primary source material and all that. :-) I've emailed people before when I wanted to know if something I read was true and they were mentioned.

I'm not reading Kos that much. He himself came out for Dodd. Whatever. They're all pretty nuts over there, if you ask me. I find it increasingly interesting how un-Left they are. But then they're Democrats, so why should that surprise me?! But there is some good info now and then.

cowboyangel said...

My lovely wife and I have just volunteered to stuff envelopes for the Obama campaign in a couple of weeks.

I'm still going to support Edwards as long as he's in the race, but I think Obama has a chance to make Hillary work for her own state. I'm pretty upset by what's transpired over the last few days. I don't want to go back, man. It all smacks of a world and era I want us to leave behind. It's 2008 - time for the Something New.

Liam said...

I'll take a look at those links -- it's bedtime now.

I saw that Kos is trying to get Dems to register Republican and vote for Romney. I think that's in bad faith.

I'm holding my breath until South Carolina -- I think that will decide whether or not it makes sense for Edwards to hold on. If he's done, I'll become an Obamaniac. Apparently according to the last poll (ha!) it's close to a three-way tie in Nevada.

Jeff said...

The whole thing makes me frustrated. The Democrats can definitely flub this thing if they want to, and they almost seem bound and determined to do so. I don't think Hillary Clinton is electable in the general election.

As for the Dems in general, what did the people in Michigan, the state with the highest unemployment, with job losses for 6 straight years, do to deserve having no delegates to represent them at the convention, just because people that they had no control over decided to move the date of the primary? Lou Dobbs isn't wrong about everything...

When I listened to Bill Clinton's "fairy tale" stump speech, I'm reminded of the nudgy, parsing, self-righteously aggrieved, self-serving whininess that made me dislike the Clintons so much to begin with. The Senate, in recent history, has been a lousy place to run for President from. It's not an executive position. What kind of "experience" can you really claim from there, except the proven wisdom in missing the votes that can get you in trouble politically? That senatorial baggage happens to apply to both Clinton and Obama. I'll stake my confidence in Obama's judgement over Clinton's, and if THE WAR is the issue, here it is...

“I know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors. … I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that” “invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale” “without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than the best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda. I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.“

There it is. It's more than she can ever say, and if the Clintons want to jump all over him for concocting a "fairy tale" because he voted for funding, I'll give him the benefit of a doubt for wanting to keep the troops in the best body armor we can provide.

If the issue is THE ECONOMY, I'll go back to my top ten reasons for not liking the old Clinton/Gore administration: