Bill Clinton Shows His True Colors

by Martin Peretz | April 24, 2008

So now Bill Clinton wants us to think that, when he compared Barack Obama's victory in the South Carolina primary this year to to Jesse Jackson's win in the same race two decades ago, he was actually complimenting his wife's opponent rather than deriding him. What's more, said our Pinocchio president, Jackson himself took the likening as tribute.  Well, why wouldn't he?

Jackson has been washed up for years.  He has not had real work, perhaps for decades, and does no real work now, sort of like Clinton himself.  You can imagine JJ going from city to city, always with an entourage of more than anyone in his position needs, searching for racist incidents that he can ambulance-chase into an outrage.  But he does have a steady income largely through PUSH (whatever tangible has PUSH ever accomplished?), financed by big corporations and financial institutions, some guilty of racial misbehavior, some not, that would rather pay Jackson off than risk nasty picket lines or even boycotts against them.  When hip-hop came along Jackson seemed like the people's poet.  Now, almost everyone grasps that he's simply a wise-ass charlatan.

Bill Clinton's Obama-Jackson analogy was an insult.  First to the person of Barack Obama who was never, ever a rabble rouser but talks, almost always and even to big crowds, as if he is having a conversation.  (For old civil rights folks like myself he reminds me of Robert Moses who will not be remembered by younger people.)  Of course, many times he is simply having a conversation.  And even his speeches are less responsive to the cheers of the crowd than it is to the expectations of the audience that he conclude logically, that is, historically and factually coherent.  Clinton is an impressive marvelous orator, and so was William Jennings Bryan to whom the man from Hope bears many resemblances.  Like Bryan, Clinton is also a deceiver, a conjurer, a shill.  He cannot understand someone like Obama who appears to think that sometimes even his adversaries may be correct.

The politics of the Obama-Jackson analogy are even more venal in that Clinton reduces the person who in 2008 has built an unprecedented cross-class, cross-race, cross-age, cross-cultural, cross-ideological alliance of Americans to the man who marginally succeeded in getting out the black vote 20 years back.  Obama, says Clinton, go to the head of your segregated class.

The fact is that Clinton planted this race-stigmatizing idea personified by none other than Jesse Jackson into the heads of white Americans and--surprise!--some of them said, "yes, that's it."  Old habits are usually more comforting than new ideas.  Still, the fact that someone identified as a black American but of more complicated backgrounds, which backgrounds are fast becoming our national paradigm, is now poised to be the Democratic candidate for president should be exhilarating to all people who yearn for the new chapter in the country's history to begin.

Yes, there are a few matters on which I disagree with Obama.  But none of them is a matter of character.  If you have judged someone's character
rightly he or she is not likely to disappoint you.  I can live with most of Hillary's political positions, too, and Bill's as well.  My differences with them are not really about a tax percentage up or down or testing in the schools or even how to do with the lending calamity.  They are trimmers, and they will trim to the right if they are in office just as they are trimming to the left on the campaign trail.  It is their characters that spook me, and this spooking does not pass.

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