Hillary Clinton lets out her inner Goldwater Girl in praise of Abe Lincoln | #Iowa #DemTownHall on Blog#42

Clinton blundered twice on matters of history and race during CNN’s Iowa Democratic Town Hall. Her first blunder was this statement:

“I have a 40-year record of going after inequality. And not only economic inequality: racial inequality, sexist inequality, homophobic inequality. The kinds of things that go after people to put them down and push them back”

As I’ve written on many occasions on this blog before, Hillary Clinton was Bill Clinton’s “Two-fer” partner throughout his political career. Bill always billed Hillary as a full partner and, indeed, she worked hard to promote his policies, many of which are the source of much misery in present day America. Clinton is refuted by her former Children’s Defense Fund boss and mentor, Marion Wright Edelman in this quote from her 2007 interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now:

“For the sake of looking tough on “welfare queens,” Bill and Hillary (and they were indeed a team) sacrificed the well-being of millions, forced single mothers into underpaid, underinsured work and added further strain to many families.”

Marian Wright Edelman

While, in 2007, Hillary Clinton could not have known what was to come and what long-term consequences there might be to the work requirement attached to welfare assistance, she should know now, in 2016, the extent of the impact her husband’s welfare legislation has had and has yet to have. If she does know, she has yet to publicly say. With so many more millions of poor Americans, a disproportionate number of whom are African Americans in need of assistance and low wage minimums that are out of sync with today’s cost of living, Clinton has refused to embrace the fight for the $15 an hour minimum wage. Clinton has also, for the most part, aimed her comments on inequality and jobs at the middle class voter, saying little to nothing, directly, to Black women, for example.

But, the more egregious of the two faux-pas of the night was this one:

My breath was taken away upon hearing Mrs. Clinton’s racially tinged and alternative historical assessment of President Lincoln, his views, and intent:

“You know, he was willing to reconcile and forgive.  And 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 rancorous, a little more forgiving and tolerant, that might possibly have brought people back together more quickly.

But instead, you know, we had Reconstruction, we had the re-instigation 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.”

Morgan State University Assistant Professor of journalism, Dr. Stacey Patton points to these salient Lincoln quotes on her Facebook page:

“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery.”

— Abraham Lincoln,  Reply to Horace Greeley

“You and we are different races. We have between us a broader difference than exists between almost any other two races. Whether it is right or wrong I need not discuss, but this physical difference is a great disadvantage to us both, as I think your race suffer very greatly, many of them by living among us, while ours suffer from your presence. In a word we suffer on each side. If this is admitted, it affords a reason at least why we should be separated. You here are free men I suppose.”

— Abraham Lincoln

“Now, gentlemen, I don’t want to read at any greater length, but this is the true complexion of all I have ever said in regard to the institution of Slavery and the black race. This is the whole of it; and anything that argues me into his idea of perfect social and political equality with the negro, is but a specious and fantastic arrangement of words, by which a man can prove a horse-chestnut to be a chestnut horse. I will say here, while upon this subject, that I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of Slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so. I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the fooling of perfect equality, and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge DOUGLAS, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position. I have never said anything to the contrary.”

— Abraham Lincoln,  Mr. Lincoln and Negro Equality, December 28, 1860

“Our republican system was meant for a homogeneous people. As long as blacks continue to live with the whites they constitute a threat to the national life. Family life may also collapse and the increase of mixed breed bastards may some day challenge the supremacy of the white man.”

— Abraham Lincoln, in a 24-page printed pamphlet in May 1861 to Reverend James Mitchell

Given what Abraham Lincoln had to say in the quotes above alone, to say that Hillary Clinton gave a whitewashed, romanticized ode to him would be an understatement. Ta-Nehisi Coates, with whom I disagreed on his assessments of Bernie Sanders and reparations here and here, has written his own condemnation of Hillary Clinton‘s town hall blunders. I agree with Coates on Clinton, with the added distinctions I drew in my first critique of his piece on Sanders. Coates writes:

“I have spent the past two years somewhat concerned about the effects of national amnesia, largely because I believe that a problem can not be effectively treated without being effectively diagnosed. I don’t know how you diagnose the problem of racism in America without understanding the actual history.”

The answer is you don’t. What’s missing is an acknowledgement that the system, our education system, was founded, not with the specific aim to eradicate any vestiges of the white supremacist narrative, but to make compulsory the exposure to a sufficient enough baseline of American history teachings to avert complete ignorance, but not ample enough to inculcate the full implications of it. It must be noted here, that the compulsory nature of America’s history curriculum in its schools varies from state to state, thanks to “State’s Rights” and the ability of each state to legislate changes into its state guidelines, as many states do. The last two years have seen a new debate in the context of what is taught in AP History courses. Catherine Rampell describes the problem very aptly in the  first two opening sentences of her piece on the subject:

It seems strange to organize an educational system around what can’t be taught to children.

But for large chunks of the country, that is exactly how public educational standards seem to be set: by demarcating and preserving blind spots rather than promoting enlightenment.

This is the heart of the problem with making progress. American students may finally get doses of truth in their academic studies when they reach college, but only if they choose to take courses that are either designed to contain it, or contain it due to some peripheral connection. That is no way to build an education system as the great “equalizer” or debunker of racism. But I have seen with my own eyes the good done by the work of tremendous academics in my student’s institution of higher learning, when a class is exposed to “truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” over a semester. Humans are the products of their environment. When that environment teaches them to only see a part of it, that is all they will look for. If the only tool you offer is a hammer, then everything will look like a nail. Worse yet, when that human is taught to discriminate from an early age, an insufficient education will not mitigate that damage.

In my essay in response to Coates’ first Sanders piece, I addressed a host of issues I felt should constitute the foundation for reparations, truth, and reconciliation:

The second barrier, even with an all-Democratic Congress, is one of knowledge and understanding of this nation’s history and the ethics of reparations. It will take far more than a Democratic Congress to change the knowledge and attitudes of whites when it comes to making moral judgments rooted in the history of America’s treatment of Blacks. Even if Congress were to be filled with African American history professors, it would still take the agreement of what remains a largely ignorant populace, when it comes to knowing and understanding America’s history on any level that would facilitate the start of a Truth and Reconciliation process, culminating in reparations. James Baldwin’s famous quote from The Fire Next Time still holds true:

“Whatever white people do not know about Negroes reveals, precisely and inexorably, what they do not know about themselves.”

Coates:

“In the Democratic Party, there is, on the one hand, a candidate who seems comfortable doling out the kind of myths that undergirded racist violence. And on the other is a candidate who seems uncomfortable asking whether the history of racist violence, in and of itself, is worthy of confrontation.”

Hillary Clinton’s formative years as a “Goldwater Girl” probably have a lingering impact on her worldview and approach. As I watched her interacting with Black Lives Matter activists in New Hampshire last summer, I was so struck by her tone and body language, that I felt compelled to write:

“Clinton’s tone and body language took a radical turn for the indignant as Jones characterized her previous answer as victim-blaming, and assigned her and Bill Clinton direct blame for the policies that led to the current state of affairs. It is at that juncture in the exchange that her passive demeanor changed, as she stepped much closer to Jones than she was before, and leaned forward. Her tone then became much firmer, her voice grew a few decibels louder, and her demeanor went from a placid neutral to overbearingly patronizing. So, what did Clinton really tell her audience of voters through Jones? Here is my translation of the subtext, though I highly recommend watching the video and reading the transcript below:

You can’t change people’s racism but you can change the laws we all operate by. You can distribute more resources and change the way institutions work, but you can’t get rid of all racism. While we can do more to bring change and increase the chance of success for those who deserve and have the potential for it, you have to ask for it. You have to do the dirty work of making a list of demands and then go out there and make sure we, the ruling class, hear it and we’ll see what we can do to sell it to all the other semi-conscious white people who don’t think they owe you a thing. But if you don’t work for it in much the same way, we, white women did back in the 60’s and 70’s, then you and I will meet again in ten years and have the same discussion all over again.

It isn’t that Hillary Clinton doesn’t know that African Americans have been demanding fair treatment for centuries. It isn’t that she doesn’t know what Martin Luther King’s advocacy was for or about. It isn’t that she doesn’t know what the Civil Rights movement was for. Andrew Young, the newly deceased Julian Bond, Reverend Jessie Jackson and many other leaders are all people both Clintons have known well and had dealings with over the last decades. It’s none of that.

What it is, is a core belief that white America doesn’t owe Black America a thing beyond whatever Black civil rights organizations can win in the courts for themselves, opening more opportunities for Blacks with potential to avail themselves of, but only if they pull themselves up by their bootstraps enough to make the request that she, in turn, will sell on their behalf. In this day and age, and after Bernie Sanders’ groundbreaking proposal, this takes one’s breath away.

People like Clinton have no clue that sentiments among Blacks, and progressives on the far left, have long left that kind of paternalistic thinking behind. Moral Monday and Black Lives Matter are not supplicant movements. They are movements to reclaim a lost or stolen share of America’s patrimony.

As much as Sanders will undoubtedly need to be reminded, taught, shown, and even pushed, none of the above describes him. I honestly don’t think he’s ever had that kind of mindset; not as the son of a Holocaust survivor, and not as an American growing up in pre-civil rights era America, and certainly not as the young man who joined CORE.

In a nation that has yet to acknowledge, much less atone for its original sin, racism is a  disorder that affects all Americans, without exception. American racism is a spectrum along which all Americans are found, at different points. In a political reality in which we’ve come to view our politicians more as messiahs than mere mortals, disappointment runs so deep that we, as of 2008, pre-crowned the candidate we spurned, apparently, in the expectation of an evolution that never took place. Today, Hillary Clinton is the same woman she was in 2007. What happened in 2016 is, as I explained in Freaky Friday, that we are getting from Bernie what we wanted from Hillary. We are hearing what we want from someone who looks like the archetypal oppressor buried deep in our collective psyches, and not from the matronly stereotype we’ve all been conditioned to instinctively trust.

Clinton has always demonstrated a particular kind of closed-mindedness when it comes to matters having to do with race and class. While she has demonstrably evolved from her associations in her teen years and early adulthood, the little Goldwater Girl in Hillary Clinton manages to resurface at most crucial times in her career as a politician. What Hillary Clinton did in Monday night’s town hall is have another Goldwater moment.


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References:

Transcript of Hillary Clinton’s statements on President Lincoln and racism courtesy of CNN:

“You know, he was willing to reconcile and forgive.  And 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 rancorous, a little more forgiving and tolerant, that might possibly have brought people back together more quickly.

But instead, you know, we had Reconstruction, we had the re-instigation 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.”

Marian Wright-Edelman interview on Democracy Now with Amy Goodman:

Well, you know, Hillary Clinton is an old friend, but they are not friends in politics. We have to build a constituency, and you don’t — and we profoundly disagreed with the forms of the welfare reform bill, and we said so. We were for welfare reform, I am for welfare reform, but we need good jobs, we need adequate work incentives, we need minimum wage to be decent wage and livable wage, we need healthcare, we need transportation, we need to invest preventively in all of our children to prevent them ever having to be on welfare.

For the sake of looking tough on “welfare queens,” Bill and Hillary (and they were indeed a team) sacrificed the well-being of millions, forced single mothers into underpaid, underinsured work and added further strain to many families. 

And yet, you know, many years after that, when many people are pronouncing welfare reform a great success, you know, we’ve got growing child poverty, we have more children in poverty and in extreme poverty over the last six years than we had earlier in the year. When an economy is down, and the real test of welfare reform is what happens to the poor when the economy is not booming. Well, the poor are suffering, the gap between rich and poor widening. We have what I consider one of — a growing national catastrophe of what we call the cradle-to-prison pipeline.”