The Plank

What About Bob?

By and

Ben Smith has a story in the Politico about Clinton's relative strength--and Obama's relative weakness--when it comes to appealing to black voters. It's a good piece, but there was one part of it that I didn't quite get. Smith makes a big deal of the fact that the Clintons spent a recent vacation in Anguilla schmoozing with Bob Johnson. Smith writes:

Johnson--founder of Black Entertainment Television and owner of the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats--stands at the pinnacle of the black elite and embodies its longstanding ties to the Clintons. He didn't respond to a request for an interview, but three people familiar with the Clintons' Anguilla trip confirmed that Johnson--an old Friend of Bill--spent time with the Clintons on the island, where he owns a home. And while Johnson isn't a prominent public figure in American politics, he's a major behind-the-scenes power crucial to a central front in Clinton's campaign for president: a full-court press on the African-American elite.

No doubt that Johnson is rich and a member of the black elite. But is he really a mover and shaker in Democratic politics? After all, during the Bush years Johnson has gotten quite cozy with the GOP--publicly supporting Bush's push to repeal the estate tax; serving on Bush's Social Security commission; trying to organize a meeting of prominent blacks to ponder the question, "Should African Americans continue to vote overwhelmingly for the Democratic Party?" In other words, I think there are other members of the African-American elite who could help the Clintons a lot more than Johnson. Sometimes a vacation in Anguilla is just a vacation in Anguilla.

P.S. Smith does get some amazingly condescending quotes from Clinton people about Obama. To wit:

"He's not built to be the black candidate," said a Clinton adviser, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "I don't think he wants to play to the Jesse Jackson wing of the party, and I'm not convinced that he wins them overwhelmingly either. His youth and inexperience play against him in that world--he's the young whippersnapper who didn't pay his dues."
[snip]
[Minyon] Moore's own presence on the campaign appears to be part of that story. A White House aide to Bill Clinton, she advised Obama last year before returning to the Clinton camp. She described Obama yesterday as "a very well-spoken young man." [Emphasis added.]

P.P.S. There is one important word missing from Smith's piece: Oprah.

--Jason Zengerle

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