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Of Teachable Moments

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There wasn't a doubt in my mind the race-baiting that occurred in the 2008 primaries wouldn't stick to former Pres. Bill Clinton. It was utter nonsense.

I also have no doubt that Barack Obama never believed it of either Clinton. You don't tap a racist to be your secretary of state, including if you think her husband is a bigot.

It was simply a useful political cudgel for Obama, Axelrod and company at a time candidate Obama needed a knock out punch. It was partisan warfare. His team was also sure the charge would be sucked up by traditional and new media, who were decidedly on Obama's side.

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It's all been forgotten, which presents us with a teachable moment on race. In America, we simply let it go. It will all blow over.

So I've been waiting for Bill Clinton's poll numbers to rise for some time. They don't call him the Comeback Kid for nothing.

Sixty-one percent of people questioned in a Gallup survey say they have a favorable opinion of Clinton. That's nine points higher than the 52 percent who say they see Obama in a favorable light. The poll indicates that 45 percent say they have a favorable opinion of former President George W. Bush. Gallup says this is the first time in their polling that Clinton's favorable rating has eclipsed that of Obama. Clinton's numbers are up nine points from the summer of 2008, when he was branded by many people as playing a too partisan political role in helping his wife during her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination against Obama.

If Mr. Clinton was actually a racist or if anyone really believed it, beyond the partisan Obamaphile hacks, former Pres. Bill Clinton would never have recovered. But he has and for good reason. His roots belie the race-baiting lies of a partisan fight, which goes back decades to Bill Clinton's foundation.

[...] From the start, Clinton also had an uncanny ability to forge a bond with African American voters. Judge L.T. Simes II understood why this was so: Simes had grown up picking cotton in Helena, Arkansas, at a time when the Mississippi Delta of Arkansas was predominantly segregated and inhospitable toward African Americans. ... Simes immediately took note that Clinton, unlike most of the stodgy "old-boy" professors, treated black students with the utmost fairness and respect in the classroom. After becoming governor, Clinton bucked the system by appointing highly qualified blacks to key positions in state government. Simes himself became the first African American to sere as chairman of the Arkansas Soil and Water Commission. Although Clinton paid dearly, in political terms, for eschewing the prevailing culture by appointing blacks, that didn't slow him. During the governor's 1980 reelection campaign, Clitnon brought Simes along to a country club in an elite section of eastern Arkansas where segregation was still firmly entrenched. ...Clinton was defeated by Frank White that fall... "We'll be back," he said. "We're not going to let the people down." - Ken Gormley, "The Death of American Virtue" (pages 22-23)

Bill Clinton's outreach to African Americans has been a bedrock of his life.

Reaching out and finding common ground goes to the life Shirley Sherrod has lived as well. There's been a lot of talk about her father being shot by a white farmer over a "dispute over a few cows," and how that informed her life. Talking about a teachable moment, Ms. Sherrod offers another one, especially for the Obama administration. Ms. Sherrod's husband was Charles Sherrod, who was mentioned briefly on "Morning Joe" late last week as someone whose name should have been as familiar as "Jackson or Al Sharpton" to the NAACP. If we want to be honest, the teachable moment on race cascades outward to include Pres. Obama and his administration, who have missed the opportunity by design.

It shouldn't be surprising that this is the second time the Obama administration has tripped on race, the first being when Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and Cambridge police Sgt. James Crowley collided and Pres. Obama weighed in. Ta-Nehisi Coate:

The argument has been made that this isn't Obama, just the people working under him. That theory elides the responsibility of leaders to set a tone. The tone that Obama has set, in regards to race, is to retreat with great velocity in the face of anything that can be defined as "racial." Granted, this has been politically smart. Also granted, Obama has done it with nuance. But it can not be expected that the president's subordinates will share that nuance.

More disturbingly, this is what happens when you treat the arrest of a black man, in his home, as something that can be fixed over beers. [..]

I do not expect Barack Obama to condemn the Tea Party's racist elements, any more than I expect Ben Jealous to lead the war in Afghanistan. But I do not expect him, or his administration, to make the work of the NAACP harder, to contradict them for doing that which the administration can not. I do not expect them to minimize those elements, thus minimizing the NAACP's fight, and then accede, to people who are pulling from the darkest, vilest reaches of the American psyche.

The "beer summit" was supposed to be a teachable moment to move us beyond racial conflict, remember?

When Andrew Breitbart, a known wingnut assassin who lynched Shirley Sherrod, is trusted over a woman who worked her whole life fighting the civil rights battles of the '60s that have yet to be won, therein lies an ugly reality, however difficult to accept.

Whatever teachable moment people crave on race, we live in the era of Pres. Obama who stated plainly a long time ago that he's not interested in "the ideological battles that we fought during the '90s that were really extensions of battles we fought since the '60s."

While Barack Obama was rising, Shirley Sherrod quietly and steadfastly did the work that the NAACP and other civil rights leaders from the 1960s have been doing to make his presidency possible.

So, here we are looking at Ms. Sherrod's firing hoping yet again for another moment to make us all wiser on race.

That's a difficult leap when the person at the top hasn't said one word on record and in public on what happened under his watch and by his administration, while Sect. Vilsack takes the heat. Now, it's Mr. Vilsack's fault the "harassed" Sherrod phone calls came, but also the firing occurred, though it's inconceivable that this action wasn't ordered from way on high. In fact, it's not believable.

So the teachable moment will have to wait.

As for former Pres. Bill Clinton's predictable, if gradual, rehabilitation we have all witnessed in 2010, not only has the Big Dog returned, but he's doing things for Democrats Obama can't come close to doing.

Pres. Obama's behind it now, which won't do Dems any good in November. But as I keep saying, even with more Republicans, which won't impede Pres. Obama's continuing political push to the right, the President can make gains and recover before the 2012 slugfest begins.

This reality is aided by the fact that the Republicans, including Sarah Palin's Tea Party branch, have no new ideas. Newt Gingrich's railing bigotry, coming after Sarah Palin's Ground Zero anti-mosque Facebook post, is all simply a blast back to the Bush past. Republicans may buy it, but independents will not and neither will even disaffected Democrats.

Though it's a cinch Pres. Obama will have a much rougher fight on his hands in 2012 than he ever did against McCain-Palin...and it's very likely that former Pres. Bill Clinton and perhaps even Hillary will be one of Pres. Obama's strongest advocates when the time comes.

Teach that.

Taylor Marsh is a political analyst and writer out of Washington, D.C.