Sunday, February 18, 2018
Opinion

Maxwell: Clinton tries again for black support

I am certain that as she did in 2008, Hillary Clinton will run for president in 2016. But presidential politics can change in a flash. • When I read the New York Times' recent article, "Eye on 2016, Clintons rebuild bond with blacks," I realized that Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, are repeating a failed strategy of the 2008 campaign: They are aggressively wooing the support of black leaders, including elected officials, heads of civic and civil rights organizations, celebrities and, of course, black ministers. • And once again, they apparently trust these leaders, especially members of the Congressional Black Caucus, to keep their word, perhaps delivering the black vote, an important bloc in presidential elections.

During the early days of the 2008 Democratic primary showdown involving Clinton and then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, most black leaders said they supported Clinton. Several super delegates, those who earn special appointment as convention delegates because of their party status, promised their support only to change their minds.

This was a bitter pill for Clinton. All of her adult life, she had been a supporter of black causes. She long had advocated, for example, for the Children's Defense Fund, an organization that aided in improving the lives of black children across the nation. When the Congressional Black Caucus needed extra help with minority-related legislation, they regularly called on Clinton. Black leaders everywhere turned to her when they needed a voice to give credence to civil rights events.

She was considered a trusted friend before Obama was a senator, and she remained the same trusted friend while Obama was a senator. What happened? As far as I can tell, two major things caused black leaders to turn on Clinton in 2008.

First, for many black leaders Obama's skin color trumped everything else. Clinton did not stand a chance of getting their support.

Second, blacks turned on Clinton because she dared to openly challenge Obama's qualifications to be president. When, for example, Obama gave a speech comparing himself, however thinly, to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and President John F. Kennedy, Clinton would have none of it, saying: "President Kennedy was in Congress 14 years. He was a war hero. He was a man of great accomplishments and readiness to be president. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led a movement. He was gassed. He was beaten. He was jailed. And he gave a speech that was one of the most beautifully, profoundly important speeches ever written in America, the 'I Have a Dream' speech."

To many blacks this was an ugly attack on their chosen candidate and a put-down of King, the civil rights champion and Nobel Peace Prize winner.

After Obama gave a rousing speech promising a host of changes, including ones related to civil rights in the tradition of King, Clinton reminded Obama: "Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act. It took a president to get it done."

Later, she went further to explain her King-Johnson comments: "Dr. King understood that there has to be a coming to terms of our country politically in order to make the changes that would last for generations beyond the iconic, extraordinary speeches that he gave. That's why he campaigned for Lyndon Johnson in 1964. That's why he was there when the Civil Rights Act was passed. Does he deserve the lion's share of the credit for moving our country and moving our political process? Yes, he does. But he also had partners who were in the political system."

Clinton's sensible views could not mollify many blacks. In the New York Times, Rep. James E. Clyburn, the senior black Democrat of South Carolina politics, warned Clinton and others about the civil right movement: "We have to be very, very careful how we speak about that era."

Of course, there were more truth-telling moments to come. And because she knew from years of harsh experience that Washington politics is a brass-knuckled fight for survival, Clinton suggested that Obama did not know what he was getting himself into.

Irreparable damage already had been done. Clinton lost nearly all black support. And here she is in 2013 trying to rebuild those pre-Obama bonds with blacks. I wish her well if she decides to run, but I hope she knows that she has no reason to trust the word of many black leaders.

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