“You know, I tried to talk about good roads and good schools and all these things that have been part of my career, and nobody listened. And then I began talking about niggers, and they stomped the floor.”
-– George Wallace, after winning Alabama’s governor’s office in 1962.
After losing his first run for governor in 1958, George Wallace famously told his campaign finance chief Seymore Trammell that he had been “out-niggered” by his opponent. There was no viable Republican Party in Alabama in the 1960s. Thus, winning the Democratic Party primary — any Democratic primary — was tantamount to winning office.
“I was out-niggered by John Patterson,” Wallace said. “And I’ll tell you here and now, I will never be out-niggered again,” he declared.
George Wallace lived up to this pledge in spectacular fashion. Overnight he became the single most important political tour de force of an openly racist, southern based opposition to the then surging Civil Rights Movement. To wit: During his inaugural address in ’63, Wallace issued his infamous call to arms from the steps of the Alabama Statehouse — a clarion call which epitomized and crystallized white anger, white angst, white resentment, and white fear of a seemingly unstoppable black tsunami. This declaration of racial war — “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!” — propelled him into two non-consecutive four-year terms. Just six months later, in June of ’63, Wallace literally ”stood in the schoolhouse door” in order to block black students from integrating University of Alabama.
Wallace survived a failed assassin’s bullet in 1972 while campaigning for president, which placed him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Ten years later, he publicly recanted his racist views, citing the assassination attempt as having caused him to re-think his stance on all things “racial”.
Wallace was constitutionally proscribed from seeking a third term in ’66. So, naturally, he ran his first wife as an obvious and open surrogate. A bewildered and hapless Lurleen Wallace won big, but unfortunately for George (and even moreso for her), she died just a year later from cancer.
Like Wallace, Bill Clinton has determined to move heaven and hell to put his wife and himself back in the White House. Recall that during Bill’s first campaign for the presidency, he and Hillary floated the idea that by electing him, voters would also be electing Hillary as a kind of “co-president”. They actually touted this possibility/probability as a “two for one” proposition.
And, just as George Wallace did in ’58, Bill Clinton understands his wife’s ’08 loss in black and white terms. Along with millions of other whites, Clinton believes that it was principally Obama’s blackness which could not be overcome no matter what Hillary said or did. Plus, Obama’s freshness, his nebulous but appealing rhetorical style, and a disarming, natural, even irresistible charisma, left them little chance of winning over a war weary and politically jaded electorate. The Clintons do not plan on making the same mistake twice.
Just after Bill Clinton won the presidency in 1992, someone asked me what I thought of the self-described “new” Democrat in the White House. “Just another white boy,” I responded. Recall that it was during that campaign that Clinton threw both Sista Souljah and Jesse Jackson under the wheels of what had all the trappings of a white supremacist campaign bandwagon.
Ah, but what a difference just a few years can make.
It was just this past week at the NAACP’s annual confab when Bill Clinton made a naked play for Black votes for his wife Hillary in next year’s presidential sweepstakes. Bill’s ploy followed a similar effort by President Obama himself. Now in his sixth year in office, Obama has had an epiphany of sorts. He has suddenly realized that there may be too many black people locked up and for no good reason. Thus, the President has issued a supremely belated call for an overhaul of the criminal justice system. He has even commuted the sentences of some 40-plus federal prisoners (out of 7,000-plus applicants and 30,000 overall) convicted under draconian drug laws. (Seems more like a commutation lottery than a compassionate or committed effort to right an obvious wrong).
Bill Clinton not only agreed with Obama but went so far as to say that the 1994 anti-crime law he enacted was a major reason so many Black men and women are now languishing in county jails, state and federal prisons, and are otherwise under some form of “supervision” by this nation-state’s “criminal justice system.”
And both Obama’s and Bill’s belated “initiatives” follow Hillary’s own call for an end to the “incarceration generation.”
These political theatrics are so chock-full of hypocrisy and cynicism that it is just impossible to ignore: Bill and Hillary Clinton, President Obama, and Democrats and Republicans across the board have all considered Clinton’s 1994 anti-crime law as one of Clinton’s crowning achievements as President. Politicians of all stripes have consistently credited that law with lowering crime rates nationwide by essentially unleashing police forces onto Black communities to rid them of dangerous open-air, street corner drug dealers, uncontrollable drug addicts, shoplifters and other petty thieves of all description, unlicensed/unregistered drivers, illegal U-turners and lane changers, jaywalkers, and, of course, those dastardly public urinaters.
“I signed a bill that made the problem worse,” lamented Clinton. “And I want to admit it.”
Clinton actually seemed to grovel before the NAACP.
“[I]n that bill, there were longer sentences,” he told them. “And most of these people are in prison under state law, but the federal law set a trend. And that was overdone. We were wrong about that.”
Clinton pleaded for understanding: “When I took office, we had had a roaring decade of rising crime,” he said. “We had gang warfare on the streets. We had little children being shot dead on the streets who were just innocent bystanders standing in the wrong place. We had kids in Los Angeles doing drills in their schools to learn how to drop down and get under their desks because of people just doing random drive-by shootings.”
And, he argued, his tough-on-crime law actually worked: “The good news is we had the biggest drop in crime history and the first eight-year decline in crime in history…The bad news is we had a lot of people who were essentially locked up who were minor actors…”
The devastating effects of Clinton’s law are now being felt by millions upon millions of people — mostly Black and Brown people. The numbers are well known by now: 2.2 million-plus people are now behind bars, double the number locked up when Clinton came to power. The US holds a full 25 percent of the entire world’s prisoners, while it constitutes only five percent of its population. Almost half of that percent are Black and Brown people.
The Clintons are counting on the forgiving nature of Black people. It is hoped that just as the families of the nine massacred Black parishioners of Charleston’s Mother Emanuel Church forgave mass murderer and domestic terrorist Dylann Storm Root, Black people will forgive the Clintons as well. But whether intentional or not, the Clintons’ “law and order” policies have destroyed far more Black lives than Dylann Root could ever even imagine.
Actually, the Clintons are demanding more than forgiveness from Black voters. They also want Blacks to forget that it was Bill Clinton and his co-president wife who signed welfare “reform” into law; who abandoned a perfectly qualified Black woman, Lani Guinier, to head the Justice Department; who oversaw the precipitous decline in “wealth” among poor Blacks even as a minuscule number of “middle class” blacks made slight (and oh so relative) financial gains.
But more than anything else, the Clintons demand that Black people forgive and forget that it was they who encouraged and helped finance a prison building boom; and who then sicced 100,000 mostly white cops on Black communities nationwide and herded black people into Bill and Hillary’s “incarceration nation.”
Originally published at www.counterpunch.org.