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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Jim Clyburn, the Clintons and Race

Congressman Jim Clyburn is the House Majority Whip, the third-ranking member of the Democratic caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives. Last Wednesday, the morning after the New Hampshire primary, Clyburn gave an interview to Carl Hulse in the New York Times where he questioned recent comments "distorting civil rights history" made by Bill and Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail:
“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.”

[Clyburn] also voiced frustration with former President Clinton, who described Mr. Obama’s campaign narrative as a fairy tale. While Mr. Clinton was not discussing civil rights at the time and seemed to be referring mainly to Mr. Obama’s stance at the Iraq war, Mr. Clyburn saw the remark as a slap at the image of a black candidate running on a theme of unity and optimism.

“To call that dream a fairy tale, which Bill Clinton seemed to be doing, could very well be insulting to some of us,” said Mr. Clyburn, who said he and others took significant risks more than 40 years ago to produce such opportunities for future black Americans.


Congressman Clyburn has nothing to with Barack Obama or his campaign and is not endorsing any candidate in the South Carolina primary, whose date he was instrumental in securing. Majority Whip Clyburn is, however, a very important person in Democratic politics. The words he chose to use were significant. His opinion has consequence.

At any rate, I think that the centrality of Congressman Clyburn in this story means that most of the commentary about "race" and "the campaign"...including the developing CW in some circles that the Obama campaign "played the race card" or "pushed race" is simply un-factual and off base.

Jim Clyburn is the House Whip and also a Congressman from South Carolina. He had a beef with the Clintons after New Hampshire and that beef was reported in the New York Times. That situation has absolutely nothing to do with Barack Obama or his campaign. Jim Clyburn is not race-baiting. Congressman Clyburn is more than allowed to have his opinion and express it; that is his right. (Tom DeLay the GOP Congressperson who held that position was fairly well know for expressing his.)

At any rate, when the NYT reports something like this it is news. The problem is that few others reported this story in its real context. (ie. Congressman Clyburn was about as invisible after this story ran as he was before. Why?)

That was and is, however, the real story here. It's a story between Bill and Hillary Clinton and Jim Clyburn and the issue is one of "respect" and how we talk about the legacy of the civil rights era. The real story here is, and has been all along, about the relationship between the Clintons and black voters and how those voters heard the Clinton's comments.

Personally I've been frustrated because so many Clinton supporters have run around online accusing Barack Obama of "race-baiting." When you ask them for supporting evidence, pretty universally they simply have nothing to show for it. (Barack Obama called the Clinton comments "unfortunate"...that's hardly demogoguery!) Even the famous "South Carolina memo" that Tim Russert held up at tonight's debate is slim evidence of "playing the race card."

Obama's staffers prepared a memo that, among other things, mentions House Whip Clyburn's comments. Seeing as he has nothing to do with the Obama campaign and the comments were reported in the New York Times, that memo strikes me as utterly mundane. How can the state staffers of a campaign be accused of "pushing" a story that has been reported in the New York Times? That is beyond ludicrous. Responsible people know this. That has not stopped high profile Clinton supporters from, perversely, continuing to push this story as if it has merit.

In effect, Clyburn's NYT interview is the "missing source" for the Obama campaign's supposed race-baiting. And, since Congressman Clyburn is not in any way affilliated with Senator Obama, there was little Obama's campaign could do. (Are the Clintons trying to suggest that Clyburn really is with Obama? If so, they should say that in public.) There's two paragraphs in the NYT piece in which Clyburn goes after Bill Clinton's use of the word "fairytale" because he found it to be "insulting" rhetoric. That's significant. That's also politics. Bill Clinton can use what ever rhetoric he chooses, but that doesn't mean he gets to do so in a consequence free zone.

When Tim Russert played "gotcha" with Obama with the SC Memo, I thought, did anyone ever fully challenge the Clintons with Clyburn's comments? Did anyone other than the NYT follow up with Clyburn? Isn't that the more appropriate question here?

If not, why not? Isn't there a bit of bias in that? The level of invisibility of Clyburn outside the NYT is galling. And, if the African American vote becomes a developing story in this campaign, aren't folks in the press and the punditry missing something pretty huge here?

The real story vis a vis Senator Clinton's "MLK / LBJ" comment and Bill Clinton's "fairy tale" comment isn't about Barack and Hillary, it's about the Clintons, their rhetoric and African American voters...and has been all along.

5 Comments:

  • oabma fessed up to his campaign pushing the race story .. i am REALLY glad Russert brought it up so everyone know what sleaze his campaign is behind...

    as far a Rep clayburn... he seems like a closeted obama supporter that is trying to have it both ways...
    stoke race to benefit obama and remain on the sidelines to seem unbiased...
    the only other explanation for his distortions of clintons words is that he cant comprehend a sentence with more than 7 words...

    your bluff has been called.... look out for the obama backlash and remember it was your own doing... -- the means is as important as the end.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:54 AM  

  • You write of Congressman Clyburn:

    "the only other explanation for his distortions of clintons words is that he cant comprehend a sentence with more than 7 words..."

    and readers can hear you loud and clear.

    By Blogger kid oakland, at 8:13 AM  

  • I am glad someone else picked up on Russert's bizarre behavior in regard to the internal memo in the Barack camp. What campaign would not have a list of candidate and non-candidate comments on any matter that could be an issue for their Candidate? The memo is available on line for all to read. There is no commentary, just a list of current comments by several people on a matter getting great play in the press.
    Hardly inflammatory. But Russert and others in the media have amazed me at their 'decision' to make Obama appear a player in this issue when he was not!

    By Blogger S. Charles, at 2:38 PM  

  • The only ones playing the race card were the Clintons because they know how divisive race can be. They also know that once you go down that path, it's hard to regroup and reclaim the momentum the Obama camp had in Iowa. Clinton knows that s/he will repair relations with blacks after Billary wins the Democratic nomination; for now, it's win at any cost. The Clintons are known for lying so why would this be different? Whites are uncomfortable talking about race and blacks spend a lot of time focusing on race. Clinton knows it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:13 PM  

  • am Claudia from Tucson, AZ and I would like to weigh in on the dirty campaigning of the Clinton's. I was happy when Rep. Clyburn spoke out about the Clinton's bringing the race issue into this campaign. I was very disheartened this morning, on "The Morning Joe," MSNBC, when Clyburn, after being asked if he had spoken to Clinton, stated that, yes, he had. But, he brought Huckabee into the mix in relation to the flag issue. We all know that it was the Clinton's. Bill owes Hillary but he needs to do it on his own time and not on mine or our country's. I am totally heartsick today. We need to call a spade a spade and the Clinton's will do whatever it takes to get back into the WH. The Clinton's have managed to divide our party; just look at how the polling numbers lay in SC. I am hopeful that the folks of SC will look at the big picture and what is right for our country - not to continue this division that we are all experiencing. I wish you the absolute best in SC Barack! Thanks for letting me weigh

    By Anonymous desertdweller, at 8:01 AM  

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