I am deeply grieved for you my brother…
How the mighty have fallen in the midst of battle.
When America’s “first Black President” was asked about the apparent results in South Carolina, he responded, "Jesse Jackson won South Carolina in '84 and '88. Jackson ran a good campaign. And Obama ran a good campaign here." Translation, this is a Black man’s state and an ethnic victory. I wonder if some of Bill’s best friends are Jews? I have been a loyal supporter and admirer of Bill Clinton since he ran for the presidency in 1992. Even when he triangulated about his public and personal life, when he faced that disingenuous impeachment, I was on his side. When he spoke (overly long) at the 2004 Democratic convention, I felt that undeniable yearning. He was a mighty force. When he cashed in on his fame and virtually overnight was transformed from a man who didn't even own a home into one of the super rich, I didn’t begrudge him this windfall of good fortune. Indeed, I admired the good works that he was doing with his foundation, even overlooking the pretension of hoping we would think of it as somehow equivalent to that of Bill and Melinda Gates.
I cut Bill Clinton a lot of slack. In the last few weeks it’s all gone down the drain. Sadly, it would seem that what his detractors have always contended, is true. Bill really cares about only two things: Bill and winning, regardless of the cost. Perhaps most disturbing of all, is the question these last weeks have raised about his sincerity in long claiming to be one of African America’s own. That Jesse Jackson comment conjures up the guy who makes a moving civil rights speech and then tells coon jokes in the Green Room. For sure that is much too harsh. I don’t question his friendship as much as his pragmatic priorities. Some of the things Bill and the campaign (with, as I suggested in an earlier blog, old Black pol support) have said or implied crossed a very big line. Perhaps, it’s better to get that race stuff out in the open, but not from those who have painted themselves as colorblind good guys.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not looking for resurrection on January 20, 2009. For sure Bill Clinton spoke with eloquence (something we’ve so missed) and presided over a strong economy (even if bubble-driven), but his presidency also birthed the divisiveness that is still poisoning our discourse. Perhaps he didn’t start it – he is always the victim – but it remains part of his legacy. It is that loss of civility that prompted the Oklahoma “summit” some weeks back, along with it, the self promoted Bloomberg boomlet. I’m also not looking for a President who can’t make it to the White House without heavy handed spousal support (and mischief) or who thinks (in part because of their complicated relationship) it’s her turn.
No Bill, it’s our turn. Yes Caroline Kennedy (NY Times Op Ed), what we’re experiencing now is exactly how it was when your father ran in 1960. That campaign was also about the future, also involved a youngish standard bearer who was accused of inexperience. And of course there is another unmistakable similarity. Your father, a U.S. Senator, told those Houston ministers, he was the Democrat Nominee for President who just happened to be a Roman Catholic. So, too, is Barack Obama a Senator seeking the Democratic nomination who just happens to be an African American. Jack Kennedy touched me deeply as a young man in 1960, changed my view about politics and, in some profound way, life. Barack Obama is doing much the same, not merely for you and your children but for me. It’s not déjà vu, but something really new. It’s the same, but refreshingly different in a vastly more complicated world.
When David sang that moving elegy so many years ago, the fallen mighty included Saul the king who had so turned against the young pretender. Bill Clinton is, in many ways, that king. Once a very bright light, his time has passed. Saul was given to irrational rage, possessed of demons, probably clinically so. Bill Clinton’s rage is understandable, perhaps even poignant; whether it’s clinical I leave to professionals. No one likes to witness their power waning; they’re being eclipsed by perhaps an even brighter light. Bill Clinton has not fallen in battle, and I wish him the extended life that he deserves. With all his faults, we have reason to thank him for the good he did, for “his service to the country”. There may yet be some small near term victories ahead, but I think yesterday in South Carolina, the mighty took a big and perhaps ultimately decisive fall.