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Monday, January 14, 2008

Bill Clinton's Legacy - Part II

Somehow Bill Clinton was able to strike a chord in the black community; often referring to himself as the first black President and maintaining a durable bond that has lasted to this day. Surprisingly, this carefully crafted propaganda has bewitched some who were once stalwarts in the Civil Rights Movement. Former Atlanta Mayor and confident of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Andrew Young, recently catered to the notion that Clinton is black, by claiming that “Bill is every bit as black as Barack. He’s probably gone with more black women than Barack.” This is extraordinary on two fronts: First, considering the fact that Clinton did more to dismantle years of hard fought Civil Rights’ gains, one must wonder how Young could have such a blind allegiance to this man. And second, how could the once implacable foe of racism, stoop to such gutter suggestions about the sexual preference of a former President?

The Civil Rights Movement, against enormous odds, slew the dragon of Jim Crow and forced America to live out the true meaning of its creed – the land of the free that guarantees equal rights and opportunities to all men and women regardless of color. And certainly one would have to be cynical and/or na├»ve to argue that black people have not been afforded opportunities unimaginable just 40 years ago. Oprah Winfrey is the most popular TV personality in America with net assets of more than $1.5 billion. Colin Powell was promoted to 4-star General under George H.W. Bush and served as Secretary of State under George W. Bush. And Barack Obama appears to have a serious chance of winning the Democratic nod for the presidency of the United States. These are only a few of many great success stories, demonstrating the long strides that this country has made to repair its race relations with people of color.

It is easy to take for granted that the United States is only one generation removed from treating blacks with a despicable disdain. Consequently, many in the white community and some in the black community have this notion that opportunities exist on an equal basis for all people. This social pathology is partly to blame for the loss of momentum in the Civil Rights Movement. So when Clinton embarked upon his slash and burn policy of Civil Rights’ gains, the black community no longer had the political muscle that caused a reformation of the social landscape during the 1950s and 1960s under the leadership of Dr. King.

Certainly if the President backed a bill to outlaw guns, the NRA would invade Capital Hill with a contingent equivalent to the National Guard. Likewise, if there were efforts to limit support for Israel, the very formidable Israel lobby would mobilize its forces and bring pressure on the President and every member of Congress. However, when it comes to a lobbying presence on Capital Hill, the black community’s interests are rarely articulated or defended. I often wonder if our lack of political presence on Capital Hill was an unintended consequence of the great Civil Rights Era victories.

If 100 people were polled in the 1950s regarding the five most important issues facing the black community; certainly equal access to education, voting rights, employment discrimination, access to loans and civil rights protection would be tops on most lists. However, if that same poll was taken today, it would be clear that there is no consensus of what are priorities within our community. Is this a function of a lack of centralized leadership? Probably, but there is another fundamental issue at play here that is equally as important: If a lobbying group is to effectively represent the needs and aspirations of its constituents, it needs financial and moral support. Using The People’s Pulse as a focus group, I ask this question – when is the last time you made a contribution to an organization that represents the interests of black people?

Many of the Civil Rights Era organizations are still around, like the NAACP, the Urban League, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). However, these special interest groups are shadows of their former glory days of sit-ins, boycotts and legal challenges to unjust laws. As a result of the black community’s inability to effectively represent its interest on Capital Hill, Clinton was able to authorize a number of landmark laws at its expense – Welfare Reform and the Crime Bill. He also lacked the political courage and will to exhibit a strong defense of affirmative action, along with the fact that he oversaw a biased, Federal Sentencing Guideline program that generally imposed longer sentences against blacks for drug offenses.

Clinton's dubious distinction as an ally to the black community must be brought to task before his wife, Hillary, begins a third Clinton administration.

...to be continued

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