Monday, January 11, 2010

Bill Clinton, Meet Trent Lott

The new book Game Change by John Heliemann and Mark Halperin has garnered a lot of attention lately with stories about Harry Reid, Sarah Palin, and John and Elizabeth Edwards. But one story that has caught my attention involves an alleged conversation between Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy during the 2008 campaign, as described in the following passage from the book as recounted from Politico:

[A]s Hillary bungled Caroline, Bill’s handling of Ted was even worse. The day after Iowa, he phoned Kennedy and pressed for an endorsement, making the case for his wife. But Bill then went on, belittling Obama in a manner that deeply offended Kennedy. Recounting the conversation later to a friend, Teddy fumed that Clinton had said, A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee.

At first blush, Clinton's comment could be taken as racist, and I'll admit that was the first thing I thought of when I heard about it. Yet, the statement itself isn't racist. You could imply there was a racist sentiment (that Obama was not fit to be anything more than a servant because of his race), but you could also make the argument that Clinton's statement was more about Obama's experience or lack thereof. Whenever you have a viable alternate explanation for a statement, we should at least give the alleged racist the benefit of the doubt until more information and evidence that confirms racist intent can be gathered and confirmed.

Bill Clinton is now getting a taste of what Trent Lott experienced after the latter's comments about Strom Thurmond's abortive Presidential run in 1948. In Lott's case, his statement about the country being better if Thurmond had won was extrapolated into being a racist statement in spite of the possibility that Lott's statement was not racist at all. As much as I dislike Lott, I defended him.

And now, I'll do the same for Bill Clinton. I dislike him, but his comment wasn't in and of itself racist. The way race enters the equation in this case is if we put it there. When you start injecting race into a situation, you're already arguing from a position of weakness and you water down racism to the point of ridicule. If you want to fight racism, fight real racism, not the faux racism borne from shoehorning race into a situation.

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