Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Clinton dogwhistles (Reconstruction and Jim Crow)

This is a politician who never learns. In 2008, Hillary Clinton suffered a devastating loss to Barack Obama in the South Carolina Primary. This loss was precipitated my a mass exodus of black voters - a very substantial fraction of the South Carolina Democratic base - from Clinton to Obama. Three out of every ten people in South Carolina are black, and more than 70 percent of white people vote Republican.



This exodus was a reaction of black voters to Clinton's racial-dog-whistling in preceding primaries. She underestimated the scrutiny of black voters in discerning what she was up to, or who she was reaching out to, and she took for granted a black political complacency that was obviously non-existent.

Right now, with the Iowa and New Hampshire Primaries on deck, and Sanders gaining the momentum to upset her coronation (again! the ghosts of primaries past!), Clinton's backstop is South Carolina, where - at least for the moment - she still holds a commanding lead in the polls. And now, with this latest gaff (?), Clinton went onto "Town Hall" with CNN and spouted some good old-fashioned Southern white historical revisionism.


In talking about her latest role-model-for-the-cameras, Abraham Lincoln, she said, "I don't know what our country might have been like had he not been murdered, but I bet that it might have been a little less rancor, a little more forgiving and tolerant than might possibly have brought people back together more quickly. But instead, you know, we had Reconstruction, we had the reigns of segregation and Jim Crow. We had people in the South feeling totally discouraged and defiant. So, I really do believe he could have very well put us on a different path."

Now I don't know who advises Clinton about saying things like this, but we all know she is perhaps the most stage-managed politician in recent history (and that is saying something). One of them ought to be fired, for sure, but she is responsible for what she does. She's no dummy, and she has a reputation as a mean scary boss. She vetted these remarks, and she factored them into her calculations. She was the main American planner involved in the 2009 coup d'etat in Honduras, which overthrew an elected government and resulted in a bloodbath that, for a time, made Honduras more dangerous to journalists than Iraq or Afghanistan. She's mean, and she's smart. Someone advised her, but she pulled out this option, and she rehearsed it thoroughly.


I politicked around with too many (mostly southern) black organizers to forget how influential (and still important) the perspectives are of black nationalism. Several of my colleagues were socialist black nationalists, an expression of which can be found any day over at Black Agenda Report. Reconstruction is seen by many socialists, by many liberals, by many historians, and by this black activist-intellectual network, as liberatory!

You don't get away with dropping Reconstruction between the bookends of past-slavery and future enforced segregation. You don't get to take this one period when African Americans became African Americans, and in many respects flourished as black political power and black civil self-organization took root. You don't get to do that, because - as Luke Brinker writes -

Following Clinton's answer, a number of liberal commentators and journalists reacted with dismay, noting similarities between Clinton's rhetoric and that of revisionist historians who argue that Northern radicals imprudently alienated the South by pursuing measures like black suffrage, non-discrimination codes and public education.


Black Lives Matter has reinvigorated African American political activism; it is a nascent social movement. It has a communicable spirit. Social movements are awakened by the people, then the people are awakened by the movement. Clinton simply does not get it. With all her power and her protective wall of handlers, agents, and advisers, she doesn't realize that when she is using this dog whistle approach to political strategy, it's not just the dogs who can hear it now. Everyone knows that she is trying to rope in a few Confederates to plump up the head count.

Her calculation is - as were the calculations of her spouse (remember Sister Souljah?) - that once she has secured the nomination, particularly when the Republican Party is breaking up into dangerous, unstable, negrophobic little sects, black voters would get back in line under the Democratic Party as a form of emergency self-defense.

It's not that she hates black people (though she was purported to have despised one black person, Barack Obama, during their contest - referring to him as "that motherfucker"). She hates anyone who gets in her way. And she'll go by-any-means-necessary chameleon to sweep up some Confederates. Bill Clinton didn't hate black people either.

They both obey the purely political logic that got them into the hallowed halls. She is committed to winning. Mission focus! It's war logic, a special kind of war that is fought with catering allowances. But she does not understand why what worked before is no longer working, what has changed.  Black, white, brown . . . you are useful or not useful. That's the war logic. But people are waking up to that, too.


In many respects, her political mirror is Rahm Emanuel, the besieged mayor of the Windy City. Tellingly, his own brother, Ezekiel, once wrote about him, "Rahm always tries to get the maximum out of the minimum." Rahm, a presidential staffer for Bill, an investment banker (of course), and a close friend of both Bill and Hillary, is in a world of political shit at the moment, and - unfortunately for Clinton as she draw this kind of unwanted attention to herself - it involves police violence against black folks, official cover-up for political advantage, and that re-awakening black political awareness.


Emanuel is - like Negroponte, Clinton's pal in 2008-9 - known to be a ruthless political actor. He was kind of admired for it, the way some people admire Trump, for the perception that he was a badass that got things done. For a time, he was Obama's Chief of Staff, bad cop to Obama's good one. Then he decided to run for Mayor of Chicago. Emanuel and Obama are both cubs of the Daley Democratic legacy and machine in Chicago.


But Rahm ran into trouble when he was facing a tough reelection campaign, when last year 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, African American, was shot 16 times in the back by a white Chicago cop, and the event was recorded. The main culprit, it turned out, had covered up malfeasance in the past; but the reaction of the Emanuel administration was to hide the tape until the election was over. This, and his years of 'structurally readjusting' Chicago, caught fire in mass mobilizations demanding Emanuel resign. Just weeks before this scandal erupted, he had been fund raising for Clinton's campaign.

Emanuel doesn't hate black people. But he doesn't care if strangers are sacrificed for his career. That's why he, like Clinton, misjudged his own words and actions in the face of this awakening.


On February 22, this year, weeks away, we shall see how much damage she's done herself with this Reconstruction remark. One thing that is becoming increasingly apparent is the hierarchy of the Democratic Party is no longer as effective as it once was at policing its members. That apparatus has been trying to keep Clinton afloat for months, and still Sanders keeps coming. In South Carolina, the same thing applies. The "be reasonable" ministrations of a comfortable roomful of 'leaders' are not proving very compelling to the swelling ranks of this intra-party rebellion.

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