Okay, time to have a little lesson in history. Bill Clinton is no racist. Sorry, everybody pile on and have your fun, but that pig just won’t fly. And this is coming to you from one who was raised as an evangelical Christian and is a political conservative, who worked in a Republican White House but who has also dedicated himself to 20 years of research into presidential families.
Now first, let me vent some of my conservative spleen. After all, there aren’t too many conservative historians. It gets confining, and lonely, doing history as a conservative. I admit that I get tired hearing about how Bill Clinton presided over the longest running economic recovery in history. My boss, Bush, Senior presided over the second longest, but both happened after Ronald Reagan ended a 40 year Cold War of unprecedented military spending that bankrupted the Soviet Union and almost bankrupted us too. The “peace dividend” coming from that abrupt and shocking end to the world’s most extravagant spending spree was substantial. For years we spent money to develop and build weapons that were thankfully never used and many eventually destroyed but the economy that was engineered to pull of that miracle kept right on pumping with steroids after the Cold War ended, the money suddenly available to balance budgets and improve infrastructure and education.
Now, at the same time, my conservative friends have to understand that running the economy without flaw is no small feat. It is a high wire act. And neither Bush could do it. Not the first, and not now the second who is scrambling to keep his eight years from being marked by two book-end recessions. But Bill Clinton did. We conservatives like to call that “lucky.”
And I groan when I hear people call Bill Clinton “the great communicator.” Just how hard is it to communicate when the media is your echo chamber? Now, Ronald Reagan, whom the media told us every day was a racist and warmonger? He was a great communicator, getting re-elected anyway, carrying every state but Minnesota and some of us were up all night, praying and eventually shedding tears as it barely toppled into the Walter Mondale column.
And I was repulsed and frankly a bit frightened by the shameless abandonment of Paula Jones by the women’s movement in America, as a network of male editors at liberal newspapers trashed her and ridiculed her pain. No one likes to see the powerful stomp on the weak, not on anybody’s daughter, sister or friend. But having vented my conservative spleen, it is now my duty to step into this firestorm of unanimous “Bill Bashing” to make a tiny correction. If no one listens, well, then this is just for the record.
So gather round liberals, Black activists, Obama supporters, self righteous Kennedys, frightened, gutless editors, Hornblowers and Bolgers, Goodbodys and Proudfoots, eh, sorry, Proudfeet, and lets review the facts of history.
If Bill Clinton is a racist …
– Why did Toni Morrison call him the first Black president?
– Why did he have a Black campaign manager? Obama doesn’t.
– Why did he appoint Blacks to 300 of the top positions of government in his first year in office, by far more than any other president in history?
– Why did he spend most of the Sunday’s of his life in Black churches listening to two hour sermons from Black pastors?
– Why did he appoint more Black federal judges than any president in American history?
– Why did he never have a political event, a private party or a state dinner without blacks there too?
– Why did he advocate and advance more Black initiatives than any president with maybe the exception of Lyndon Johnson, and that includes John F. Kennedy, by the way.
– When he retired, why did he move his presidential offices into Harlem?
Since George Washington, former presidents dutifully retired into oblivion. In the 18th century it mean a few years back on the farm. In the 19th century they took world tours. Grant did, the Lincolns were planning one. In the 20th century, Teddy Roosevelt went to Africa on safari, to kill lions. Even into modern times presidents retired to private lives. Truman, Eisenhower and Nixon were never seen tromping off to displaced persons camps or holding starving black children in their arms.
Now, I love Ronald Reagan and he did some very nice things for a charity I co-founded (see Reagan on the National Charity Dinner http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2cgrUujoy9E ) and G. H. W. Bush has turned down some lucrative speaking gigs to help raise money for floods and tsunamis. That’s all new for a retired Republican by the way and should surely be applauded. And Jimmy Carter always wins the former presidents’ awards. I also appreciate what he and former president Bush, Senior have done for my charity. There is just something pure and wonderful about seeing Carter up on a roof pounding nails instead of using a power point presentation at a board meeting of a charitable trust.
But the truth is this, for every nail Jimmy Carter pounds into the roof of a new home for an overweight American living below our exalted poverty level, there are a thousand starving Black babies in Africa who owe their very lives to the work of Bill Clinton. It is more than Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton could ever do for their own. Here is a remarkable thought. It is very likely, as of right now, that Bill Clinton has raised more money for charity than all of the retired American presidents in all of American history combined. And the biggest share of that fundraising has gone to Africans in need, ignored by most of the world.
Bill Clinton is no racist. What is truly shameful, but typical, is that I have to be the one to remind you of this.
Yes, he made some missteps this week but we don’t really know the details. I have been on the receiving end of mindless stories where everyone is sure they know what they are talking about and where hypocritical people look sanctimonious and people doing their job look bad and none of the detail or circumstances or context is really known and the media spins it for their own selfish ulterior purposes, unseen by the public.
Life is complicated, especially politics. Billy Graham made mistakes in his conversations with Nixon, in his illegally retained income investigated during the 1970’s but it doesn’t mean he isn’t Billy Graham. An innocent Mother Theresa was scandalized when it was learned she had leant her name and picture to fraudulent fundraisers. But it doesn’t mean she was no longer Mother Theresa, a saint. And this week does not mean that Bill Clinton is not Bill Clinton.
In their understandable rush to get a Black president into the White House, the Black community would do well to pause and think about the last time they had a Black president. There is no way that Barack Obama can do more for you, appoint more judges, pass out more programs than Clinton did. In fact, you know he will have to do the very opposite to prove he can govern all groups, not just yours. You know, with all your pride in his ascendency that you are destined for some disappointments and unrealized expectations if he wins and you leaders now lambasting Bill Clinton will probably have less face time in the Roosevelt Room with Barack Obama than you ever had under Ronald Reagan. You know that will be coming if he wins.
So perhaps now you should slow down a bit and consider the record of a man who has loved you all his life. If he had been president he would never have been too busy or too remote to leave you stranded on rooftops in a New Orleans flood, in 90 degree heat, without water or toilets. He would have been there immediately, at your side. And now that it is his turn to be stranded up there alone for a few hours or days, until this story passes, you would do well to go to his side, no matter who you eventually support for president. Even if Barack Obama should win, you may one day come to realize that Bill Clinton was not only the first but also the last “Black president” you ever had in your lifetime and he certainly does not deserve to be called a racist.