Let me be clear here. I am not implying that the former president actually thinks that all black candidates are physically indistinguishable. But I am implying that his recent attempt to dismiss Barack Obama's blowout victory in South Carolina with a backhanded comparison to Jesse Jackson's previous losing presidential bids, reeked of condescension.
Before any die-hard Clinton fanatics attempt to argue that this was yet another Clinton quote taken out of context, or distorted by the media (all of whom must clearly hold some grudge or bias against the Clintons; after all why else would anyone ever criticize them, even when they warrant it?), I watched the video in which the man who was once dubbed "the first black president" nearly a decade ago made the aforementioned remark.
In a brief walk and talk with reporters the former president had the following exchange:
REPORTER: What's it say about Barack Obama that it takes two of you to beat him?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: That's just bait too. Jesse Jackson won in South Carolina twice in '84 and '88 and he ran a good campaign.and Senator Obama's run a good campaign here. He's run a good campaign everywhere. He's a good candidate with a good organization.
Here's what's striking about the exchange. President Clinton wasn't asked about Jesse Jackson's campaign. In fact, if he wanted to reference candidates who had "run good campaigns," won South Carolina's Democratic primary, and still gone on to lose the nomination he could have just as easily referenced Sen. John Edwards. In fact, wouldn't that have made more sense considering Edwards' win was in 2004 not 1984? The message, subconscious or not, seemed to be this: "At the end of the day all black campaigns look alike, run alike and eventually lose alike -- so this South Carolina thing is really no big deal."
Oh how wrong this assertion is.
A gift for oratory, a shared home base of Illinois, and yes, skin color, are just about all that the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and Jesse Jackson have in common.
Aside from representing different generations, the two men represent two vastly different worldviews. Jackson, a veteran civil rights activist, is known as much for his racially charged rhetoric (and willingness to hoist himself before the nearest tv camera), as he is for his presidential runs and his role as an international statesman, who has famously negotiated the release of various U.S. hostages over the years.
Obama, a product of the post-Civil Rights generation, as well as of a multi-racial heritage and multi-cultural upbringing, is known for his ability to use rhetoric to bridge our country's racial and cultural divides, inspiring a real-life "rainbow coalition" on the campaign trail unlike no other our country has seen before. According to Sen. Obama his family reunions are a sort of mini-United Nations, complete with relatives who resemble the dark-skinned African-American comedian Bernie Mac, and others who resemble former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. In other words, he does not strike voters of various hues as someone who might accidentally allow the derogatory term "hymie" to slip into conversation -- a slip that cast a cloud over Jackson's first run for the presidency and has continued to shroud his legacy.
While Jackson has said that he was not upset by Clinton's remarks we all should be. After all, the so-called "first black president" should have known better. Maybe this is why Toni Morrison, the woman who christened him "the first black President" was moved to endorse the man who really could become the first black president, this time around.
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