Revolution#118, February 3, 2008

Clintons Play the White Supremacy Card

As the possibility emerged that Barack Obama might have a serious chance of being the Democratic candidate for president, and as the primaries headed toward the Southern states of South Carolina and Florida, Hillary Clinton’s campaign played the white supremacy card.

• After Hillary Clinton’s narrow win in New Hampshire, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, a major Clinton supporter, said that Clinton’s victory was because, “You can’t shuck and jive at a press conference,” evoking an image of Black slaves “shucking and jiving” (from the point of view of the slave master) to evade work on the slave plantations. It was a crude appeal to white racist stereotypes.

• On January 7, in a campaign speech, Hillary Clinton claimed that “Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.... It took a president to get it done.” The message being that the system, and Lyndon Johnson, was mainly responsible for whatever civil rights advances were supposedly “given” to Black people. That is a racist distortion of what happened. Concessions made to the struggle for equality were fought for by the people at the grassroots, through heroic struggle and sacrifice by African-Americans and others. They faced whips, clubs, fire hoses, and dogs. They gave their lives in the battle for equality.  In addition, the rulers of the U.S. felt pressure to remove overt Jim Crow segregation because it was an embarrassment and impediment to the expansion of U.S. imperialism and neocolonialism around the world. The very terms of “Johnson vs. King” are bogus. In the struggle against white supremacy, particularly as it moved to a militant and eventually revolutionary phase, Martin Luther King promoted compromise, and worked to keep the civil rights struggle under the control of the establishment.  (see “Martin Luther King, Jr.... And What We Really Need,” Revolution # 116 at That said, the way that Hillary Clinton formulated her statement about King and Johnson was supposed to, and did, trivialize the actual struggle and sacrifice of the masses of people.

• On January 23 in Charleston, South Carolina, Bill Clinton said, “They are getting votes, to be sure, because of their race or gender and that’s why people tell me that Hillary doesn’t have a chance to win here.” David Leege, Notre Dame political scientist analyzed: “There is a substantial residual of race-related fear, and President Clinton’s frequent invocation of race/gender differences is tapping into it.” The Clintons (some have described Bill Clinton’s role as the “bad cop”) are pandering to, and promoting white supremacy in the form of “the Blacks are taking over.”

In his first campaign for the White House in 1992, Bill Clinton, then Governor of Arkansas, took time off during the early primaries to fly back to the state to watch the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a brain-damaged Black man. Then right in time for the Southern primaries he posed with a Georgia senator in front of a chain gang of Black inmates in white prison suits at Stone Mountain, Georgia, second home of the Ku Klux Klan. That picture appeared in newspapers across the South the day people went to the polls. And a pivotal point in Bill Clinton’s campaign for president in 1992 was when he made a point of publicly slapping down Black rapper Sister Souljah.

As president, Bill Clinton presided over legislation that “end[ed] welfare as we know it.” He oversaw the massive expansion of the prison system. And he signed the so-called “Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996”—that gutted the right to habeas corpus and severely crippled the right to appeal death sentences—even when new evidence emerged after convictions.

In playing the white supremacy card this time around, the Clintons are reminding the ruling class of their ability to come off as “sympathetic” to Black people while enforcing white supremacy “on the ground” and in people’s thinking.

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