by Michael Blim
George Wallace reflecting on his first and unsuccessful run for governor of Alabama in 1958 defeat, made a remarkable vow. “Well, boys,” he said, “no other son of a bitch will ever out-nigger me again.” Needless to say, no one did, as you might recall.
Perhaps until now. Bill Clinton, self-proclaimed and rather foolishly acclaimed by some who shall go nameless as the first “Black” president has played the race card with a finesse that even Wallace might have admired. He has niggered Barack Obama. After he and Mrs. Clinton began to see that African-Americans were turning to Obama – doubtless armed to with polling data (I am guessing here) that might have indicated an African-American swing toward Obama in other states, this most ruthless and cunning couple, the Macbeths of our time, played the race card.
And Bill Clinton knows it. There is nothing, and I hope that progressive Southerners will forgive me this, like the expertise of a Southern politician in out-niggering, to use Wallace’s infelicitous phrase. Clinton employed it with a devilish finesse. Why, “Jesse Jackson won South Carolina twice in 1984 and 1988. And he ran a good campaign. Senator Obama’s run a good campaign here, he’s run a good campaign everywhere.” (Financial Times, January 28, page 4) The Financial Times, a straight-ahead, moderately conservative but rigorously reported newspaper concluded: “Mr. Clinton’s bleary-eyed implication was clear: Mr. Obama is a black candidate whom blacks disproportionately support.”
The specter of “block voting,” another code word in the South for the historic attempts of African-American to change Southern society comes to mind. Clinton has transformed Wallace’s technique: he uses race to “triangulate,” another unseemly strategy he brought to the White House and now spews forth as the hatchet man for Senator Clinton. He’s not baking cookies. He is artfully playing against African-Americans in order to pick up whites and Latinos for the Clinton campaign down the road. This is triangulation in its meanest form. Before it meant isolating progressive Democrats and working with Republicans to steal the middle ground of American politics out from under both of them. Recall “welfare reform,” the Defense of Marriage Act – oh, I don’t want to get started – both signed just in time for his re-election?
No noose-swinger is he. No, the Wallaces and Sparkmans and Russells – and yes the early Lyndon Johnson — they were pikers in comparison. They merely consolidated the white vote. Clinton seeks to take out not only the black vote (if Senator Clinton can’t get enough of it), but to pick up both whites and Latinos – a kind of multi-culti racism without a ready precedent as I see it, at least now.
Niggering Obama makes a perverse sense that a Southern politician really understands. In the North, white politicians are no dummies. They consolidate white votes too by playing the race card. Their play must be both obvious, but careful in the final analysis. In big cities, few white politicians can countenance completely alienating African-Americans. They must share at least some power with them when they govern. In Chicago, my hometown, the elder Mayor Richard Daley was elected and re-elected with an overwhelming African-American vote, as Mike Royko, the inventor of Slats Grobnik, noted with a bittersweet irony. Yes, Chicago Congressman William Dawson ran a plantation on the South Side, ever since he had turned Democrat during the New Deal.
Chicago since the sixties was often described by social scientists as the most segregated, and by implication most racist, northern city in the nation. But something is lost in this description. African-Americans gained real power in Chicago, and they did it because white resistance began to whither under the relentless pressure of African-American politicians.The first black mayor, Harold Washington, came up working in the Daley machine, as did three generations of African-American politicians before him. After Obama took a whupping in his run for Congress – buried by a well-oiled African-American wing of the famous intergenerational Daley Machine, he still found some room for his rise, as so many other African-American politicians in Chicago have done before him.
Niggering in the North is done not by nailing African-Americans wholesale. – not these days anyway I would argue. But white politicians work up white racists by stigmatizing the Jacksons (not Jackson Jr. by the way who now has the congressional spot that Obama failed to win and is liberal force within the new Daley machine) and the Al Sharptons. These are the blacks to watch out for. They are the pushy ones – the “uppity” ones. In this way, white politician consolidate their white votes and still find a way to work with powerful black politicians after Election Day.
But the resentment of white politicians was visceral. How they hated Adam Clayton Powell. There was one uppity black man. How they hated Harold Washington, another uppity. These politicians knew the moves, and could beat the openly racist white politicians through their extraordinary insight, whether in running campaigns, or in Powell’s case helping pass the most progressive social legislation to come out of the Congress since the New Deal.
The Clintons, one expects the former President in particular, must really hate what is happening. An African-American politician, of all people, could become the real first black president. Another Clinton myth dismantled. The poor man sees himself becoming the Eisenhower of his generation.
But whereas, the General was an old-fashioned racist, Bill Clinton is of the new breed. He won’t be out-niggered, but in a new sense. He and the Senator can’t run an overtly racist campaign. After all, some of their best friends….. Oh, by the way, does my memory deceive me, or were the most spectacular of Clinton’s political executions during his regime the throwing overboard of Lani Guinier, Jocelyn Elders, and Andrew Young – all black “friends of Bill?’ Help me readers on this one. I could never keep up with Bill and Hillary’s betrayals.
But they can try to make Obama black. Watch out, they are saying to whites and Latinos, those old black block voters are going to get their way. And God knows, you both will find yourselves on the outside looking in. Think of what would happen if they escape the plantation? Given what’s been done to them, their revenge could be frightful.
And, of course, we Clintons will lose our grip on the best job, the most perks, the most lucrative book deals and speaking engagements, and the best elbow-rubbing in the world as we know it. Why they even paid off Bill’s legal expenses incurred in the little mess with that woman that the old yard dog didn’t have sex with.
Let a black man grab this? Not on your life. If we have to nigger him, well, the polls say we’ll make out. Another one over the side – that’s just a day’s work for us. We’ve been doing it so long, what’s another one to us?
George Wallace has found his heir, only in a politician smarter and more modern. But Bill be out-niggered? Not on your life. Or Obama’s for that matter.