Hillary Clinton’s Race Problem

BY PETER N. KIRSTEIN

In 2008, then Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (Dem. NY)–she avoids using her family name and prefers the title “Mrs.” to garner presumably the anti-feminist vote-was engaged in one of the most epic contests in American history for the Democratic-presidential nomination.

In May 2008, her first presidential bid was stagnating having lost BOTH the Indiana and North Carolina Democratic-party primaries, and encountering the growing impact of Barack Obama’s charismatic and grass-roots headwinds. She sat down for an interview with USA TODAY and used her fairer skin to gain a political advantage over her African-American rival, the senator from Illinois. These were her precise words in the USA TODAY interview that have apparently been forgotten by those who claim she is the champion of minority rights, and tout her majority support within the African-American community:

“I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on,” Mrs. Clinton stated in referencing a story in the Associated Press that heralded her support among white voters. “[It] found how Senator Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me.” Mrs. Clinton then told the paper, “There’s a pattern emerging here.” (Emphasis added)

Indeed a pattern emerges of race-baiting and appealing to white-supremacist voters. While this interview received some exposure, it was variously described as “clumsy” or “dumb.” Its shelf life was short as a cynical effort to utilise the race card for political advantage. Hillary Clinton defended the remarks as a solid rendition of exit polling. It was not raised in her confirmation hearings as secretary of state by the Senate when only two Senators in 2009 appropriately voted against confirmation.

The Senate avoided the implications of such racialism with its sole intent to gain a political advantage with a direct appeal to white voters in future primary states. It is certainly in my estimation, in addition to her criminal support of mass murder in the Iraq War, a prima facie disqualifier for serving as president. No candidate for that office should get a one-day pass for racism, a one-interview exemption for using race as a political wedge to satisfy her blind ambition.

Secretary Clinton should be challenged vigorously and relentlessly for this comment. It was neither taken out of context nor an informal statement not meant for public consumption. It was calculated self-promotion on electability to two reporters, Kathy Kiely and Jill Lawrence. Such a shameful statement is egregious. One should question a candidate’s fitness for president in the context of such a remark. While the Congressional Black Caucus and other establishment African-Americans such as Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn have endorsed this self-absorbed candidate, other luminaries such as Representative Keith Ellison, Spike Lee, Killer Mike, Benjamin Jealous, Harry Belafonte and Danny Glover have refused to endorse her candidacy and have supported Senator Bernie Sanders.

6 thoughts on “Hillary Clinton’s Race Problem

  1. The race issue simply needs to go away from politics. We are all Americans. In my office bldg, we have about equal numbers of whites, blacks, browns & yellows. Race is oblivious to us. We are simply Americans. We get along famously. As usual, the bubble of the beltway is a generation behind….

  2. As an officer of the AAUP, I want to reiterate the statement on this blog that “Opinions published here do not necessarily represent the policies of the AAUP.” The AAUP has taken no organizational position on candidates in the current presidential election. Speaking as an individual, I would hope that participants in this blog will try to confine their comments on presidential candidates to issues of specific relevance to higher education.

    • The post was not an endorsement. It was an analysis of a candidate’s position on race which I believe was sourced, accurate and relevant. There have been many posts on the election cycle that have not dealt with higher ed. There have been many essays here on the candidates. I think when we begin to delimit commentary on an AAUP blog, it might have a chilling impact on academic freedom.

      • I will let readers determine for themselves the accuracy or relevance of your analysis, but while your post wasn’t technically an endorsement — and I didn’t say it was — I don’t think it’s far-fetched to think that many will nevertheless read it that way. But my point is not that you can’t endorse whomever you wish, but to clarify once again that AAUP has not made any endorsement and that statements on the blog do not necessarily represent the Association. We have enough experience so far in which readers have failed to recognize that fact. As for relevance to the blog, I will again quote the blog’s “about” statement, which makes clear that it “focuses on issues in higher education.” I’m not at all for narrowly restricting entries to that topic, nor do I claim, possess, or desire any power to do so. But I would still advise bloggers to keep in mind that this blog is hosted by the AAUP and that, like it or not, what is posted here may affect people’s views of the AAUP. I certainly think I should have the freedom to offer such advice, just as you have the freedom to ignore it.

  3. Doing close analysis of past and present speech acts is something we do well in higher education, so in that sense, this discussion shows how important it is that such analysis continue. In my mind the discussion is not so much about race as it is about how “race” is being used as a rhetorical instrument in a political process. It would be great to share such insights in a larger context and to confirm to a wider public that academic insight is needed more than ever in a situation in which public figures believe they can say anything.

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