Race Talk in Democratic Primary Revives Clinton-Lewinsky Scandal

Fred Lucas | Staff Writer | Thursday, January 17, 2008

Race Talk in Democratic Primary Revives Clinton-Lewinsky Scandal

(Editor's note: Changes title of Mychal Massie, national chairman of Project 21.)

(CNSNews.com) - Yet another racially charged comment has entered the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination, and this time it harkens back to the Clinton impeachment scandal.

On Sunday, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the "spiritual adviser" to presidential contender Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), spoke from the pulpit of his Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. The topic was Obama's chief Democratic opponent Sen. Hillary Clinton (N.Y.) and her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

Some black Americans want to support Sen. Clinton, said Wright, "because her husband was good to us," the Baltimore Sun reported.

"That's not true," said Wright. "He did the same thing to us that he did to Monica Lewinsky." Wright was referencing President Clinton's "affair" with a White House intern, an affair that reportedly involved acts of oral sex. The scandal led to Clinton's impeachment by the U.S. House and to charges of obstruction of justice.

In a statement, Obama said, "As I've told the Rev. Wright, personal attacks such as this have no place in this campaign or our politics, whether they're offered from a platform at a rally or a pulpit of a church."

Nonetheless, the event underscores the role race is playing in the Democratic presidential battle, even after a seemingly conciliatory debate among Democrats on Tuesday in Las Vegas. Analysts predict Democrats will bridge the divide when the nomination fight is over.

That divide widened last week when Sen. Clinton made comments about the slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. The day before the Jan. 8 New Hampshire primary, Sen. Clinton said, "Dr. King's dream began to be realised when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It took a president to get it done.""

"I've been on a lot of radio talk shows and people are still calling in angry," Ron Walters, a political science professor with expertise on African-American politics at the University of Maryland, told Cybercast News Service.

"The reference to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at a time when people are celebrating his birthday, implying or inferring that civil rights would not have occurred if not for Lyndon Johnson seems to devalue Dr. King's contribution," Walters said.

Clinton has since explained that she wasn't marginalizing King's role, only explaining the legislative process, and she apparently implied that Obama was comparing himself to King.

But other analysts insist it is unfair to say that Clinton is playing the race card in her campaign.

"It's a real stretch to say Hillary Clinton is playing the race card," Matthew Wilson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, said in an interview. "She stated Lyndon Johnson was instrumental in the Civil Rights Act. That's true. It was not meant to denigrate Martin Luther King or the civil rights movement."

'Orchestrated effort'

Campaigning for Clinton in Nevada, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, Robert L. Johnson, defended Clinton's statement regarding King before alluding to Obama's admitted teenage drug use.

"I am frankly insulted that the Obama campaign would imply that we are so stupid that we would think Hillary and Bill Clinton, who have been deeply and emotionally involved in black issues since Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood -- and I won't say what he was doing, but he said it in the book -- when they have been involved," said Johnson.

This is "absolutely" a pattern of Clinton playing the race card, said the University of Maryland's Walters

"Bob Johnson's comments were over the top, but it seems it's clearly an orchestrated effort," Walters said. He added that the Clintons already have a record of playing racial politics, given Bill Clinton's 1992 "Sister Souljah moment."

"He went to the Rev. Jackson's convention to prove he was tough on blacks to get the Reagan Democrats back," Walters said. "Here it is again. The Clintons have a track record."

Late last year, Bill Shaheen, co-chairman of Clinton's New Hampshire campaign, said if Obama were nominated, Republicans would ask about his drug use and say, "Did you ever give drugs to anyone? Did you sell them to anyone?"

Former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, a Clinton supporter, suggested that Obama might be a Muslim. Clinton supporter and New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's phrase "shuck and jive," used in describing Obama, was perceived by many to be racially charged as well.

Other black commentators, such as New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, see a clear pattern.

"And there was Mrs. Clinton telling the country we don't need 'false hope' and taking cheap shots at, of all people, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.," Herbert wrote last week. "We'd already seen Clinton surrogates trying to implant the false idea that Mr. Obama might be a Muslim, and perhaps a drug dealer to boot."
'Not out of character'

The racial tone of the campaign doesn't come as any surprise to Mychal Massie, national chairman of Project 21, a conservative black group.

"Democrats use the race and gender card in every election cycle," Massie told Cybercast News Service .

He said the Democratic Party has not historically been friendly to blacks, despite the fact that blacks vote 90 percent Democrat in presidential elections.

"What Hillary didn't say is that if LBJ hadn't gone to Republicans for help, he never would have passed the Civil Rights act because it was Democrats - like (West Virginia Sen.) Robert Byrd and (former Tennessee Sen.) Al Gore Sr. - who were opposed to it," said Massie. "Democrats either savage blacks or they tell blacks someone else is doing this to them."

Massie added that the Clinton tactics are "beneath the pale" for politics, but "not out of character for the Clintons."

Polls indicate black voters are siding with Obama in the nomination contest. Obama leads Clinton among black voters in a national Gallup poll, 56-33 percent. In South Carolina, a Rasmussen Poll showed Obama leading Clinton 38-33 percent among black voters, who make up nearly half of South Carolina's Democrats.

Wilson, of Southern Methodist University, said politics is rough, and many of the other attacks hurled at Obama would have been hurled at any candidate. He recalled that candidate George W. Bush's rumored past drug use was reported during the 2000 election cycle.

But Wilson said if the primary is too split along racial lines, it could cause problems for Clinton if she is the nominee.

"She will win 90 percent of the black vote against any Republican," he said. "It's not about black voters defecting to a Republican. The risk is that black voters might stay home if they are not motivated. Race is a risky element in her campaign."

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