Lanny J. Davis
Friend and supporter of Senator Clinton and fundraiser for her presidential campaign
It's bad enough that the charge of "playing the race" card against Senator and President Clinton is utterly and demonstrably false.
But so many African Americans have come to believe this bogus charge that Senator Clinton's favorable opinions in the black community have dropped significantly and many are telling reporters they won't support Senator Clinton in the general election if she wins the nomination.
The false perception that Senator and President Clinton interjected race into the campaign for political purposes is a direct result of distorted reporting by most of the media covering the race. Let's look at the facts behind the four incidents that, in a space of 1-2 months, led to converting the Big Lie into a perceived truth by so many Democrats, black and white alike:
But when African Americans heard the media state in print and on TV again and again that President Clinton had called the Obama "campaign" or "narrative" a "fairy tale," they erroneously believed that to be true. And they were naturally offended because they thought President Clinton had disrespected the possibility of African American being elected president.
3. President Clinton's reference to Rev. Jesse Jackson: On the morning of the South Carolina primary (not after, as was widely misunderstood), President Clinton said that Rev. Jesse Jackson had won the South Carolina primary in 1988. That was a fact. Everyone knew that Rev. Jackson had won the primary in South Carolina and in other deep south states largely because of substantial support from African American voters, who constituted a large percentage of all primary voters.
Was President Clinton, a supportive husband and shrewd politician, trying to minimize in advance the adverse political impact of the anticipated substantial victory by Senator Obama that night? Of course. Some can legitimately criticize President Clinton's judgment concerning the timing of this comment. I wouldn't be surprised if, in retrospect, President Clinton himself would not agree with that criticism. But it is a huge – and unfair – leap from questioning judgment in defense of his wife to accusing President Clinton of intentionally "playing the race card."
4. Dr. King and LBJ: The most egregious distortion feeding the Big Lie was the criticism of Senator Clinton's factual statement, also in the days leading up to South Carolina primary, crediting President Lyndon Johnson for the enactment of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act in the aftermath of Dr. King's inspiring "I have a dream speech" and the Kennedy assassination. In reaction to that statement, the media did its anti-Clinton distortion thing again. They found African American officials who, already buying into false perception of the Clinton campaign as exploiting race, wrongly accused Senator Clinton of disrespecting Dr. King by her statement.
The irony is that by repeating the bogus "race card" accusation against Senator and President Clinton, African American leaders, egged on by the media’s misreporting, arguably themselves had unwittingly interjected race into the campaign well before the Rev. Wright issue.
An even more malignant manifestation of the Big Lie is the increasingly frequent suggestion that any criticism of Senator Obama must be, by definition, really about his race. An example occurred just this past Saturday in a New York Times op-ed piece. The writer (whose background or bias is not disclosed) declares that "the Clintons pummeled Barack Obama with racially tinged comments," and cites as examples that Senator Clinton had "chastised [Senator Obama's] characterization of white working-class voters as being highfalutin" (the latter being the writer's word, not Senator Clinton's) and had "chided him for not agreeing to a street-fight-style debate" (the writer's term for Senator Clinton's suggestion of a Lincoln-Douglas style debate with no moderator (!)).
But these examples have nothing to do with race. Does it not at least seem to be reverse racism to suggest that any criticisms of Senator Obama having nothing to do with his race necessarily must be about his race?
In the last few weeks, one senior African American congressional leader told newspapers that there are some in the black community who believe that Senator Clinton is motivated to "so weaken Senator Obama that he loses to Senator McCain in 2008 and, thus, allowing her to run again in 2012."
This is sad – not only because this belief is utterly baseless. Worse, it is unfair to Senator Clinton and her husband for African Americans to forget or discount their 40-year history of fighting for civil rights, affirmative action, and economic justice.
In the final analysis, I have confidence that most African Americans, who themselves have been the historical victims of lies and stereotypes, will see through the distortions of the media and appreciate the true facts. When they do, they will once gain remember that record of both Senator and President Clinton and enthusiastically support Senator Clinton if and when she is the Democratic candidate.