I watched video clips of three related events last week. They could endure in the memory for a long time. First, there was Bill Clinton at a Philadelphia campaign stop. Shilling for Hillary, his wife, Clinton tried to engage members of the Black Lives Matter movement in a debate over his crime bill of 1994 which disproportionately targeted the African-American community and unnecessarily caused many of its members to end up in the slammer. The young members of the BLM had crashed the venue to protest Clinton’s role in all that, and to take umbrage, as they have continued to do, at the term “super predators”, which his wife, allegedly out of sheer invidious contempt, had applied to black criminals when she was first lady. Hillary is now running for the office the husband had filled for eight years.
The point Clinton was making in that video was valid, and he had every right to make it. Since we’ve heard an awful lot from members of the movement, most of whom relish crashing campaign rallies to disrupt them in order to be heard, it should be deemed perfectly legitimate that we hear from the other side of the matter also. After all, there are two sides to a story.
But the problem with Clinton’s side of the story was neither the veracity of his account nor lack of it. Rather it was the optics of his ventilation, the video of which soon went viral and became the media’s instant talking point. Although armed with facts and figures as he sought to dispel the protesters’ argument, the former president got carried away by emotion and became somewhat agitated, his voice rising sharply. His effort ended up looking more like a rebuke harshly delivered to a bunch of schoolkids whose offence was only venial. What was worse than that is that the little progress his wife had already made on the matter by her profuse apologies and her subsequent unveiling of policy proposals aimed at redressing the wrong if voted into the White House, has now been stepped upon.
Even when they are innocuous, Clinton’s words, especially during a charged election atmosphere like this, do stand the risk of being endlessly mined by critics for some coded racial putdowns or just plain, unwarranted insults to the Black community that stood by him in his moments of trial, the same community that has so far also proved to be his wife’s effective firewall against the socialist juggernaut called Sanders. Which brings me neatly to the second video clip —- that of Van Jones and Angela Rye in a heated debate with Bob Beckel on CNN the other night.
Van Jones, who once served in the Barack Obama administration and shares birthday with me, needs no introduction. A smart, Yale-educated attorney, Jones was named in 2009 by Time as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. These days, he is a CNN contributor who speaks forcefully on the issues he cares deeply about, especially matters bordering on race relations. Not long ago, I recall, I fired a tweet at him expressing my disappointment at his vociferous advocacy for Bernie Sanders at the expense of Hillary over a certain issue. I’d thought that because Jones was close to Obama, he would be more inclined to support Hillary who stands a better chance of beating a Republican nominee and protecting Obama’s policies. Jones replied, saying he had no apologies for defending Sanders because not many people spoke forcefully enough on behalf of his campaign. The next thing, my twitter was on fire for three endless days. Scores and scores of Sanders supporters who retweeted Jones’s remarks in appreciation of his support of their principal, had one petulant remark or the other for me about the issue.
Well, just in case the above does not say enough about Jones’s passionate style, then I refer you to the feisty confrontation he had on CNN with Jeffrey Lord, a shill for Donald Trump and Jones’s fellow contributor on CNN. The spirited fight by the two men was over Trump and what looked then as his barely-disguised acceptance of David Duke’s endorsement, the former leader of the hate group KKK. Squaring off against Lord who aggressively defended Trump and the hate group, Jones was simply on fire. I was proud of him as a fellow black man.
But however justified and admirable his performance in that exchange with Lord was, there are times you are tempted to say that Jones sometimes takes his protestations to unnecessary lengths, as demonstrated, for example, by his no-holds-barred berating of Clinton over the former president’s encounter with the BLM members. Visibly angry, Jones used the words “horrible”, “despicable”, “rude”, “mean” to characterize Clinton’s manners. Jones also showed that his beef with Clinton is ancient. Jones proved that by harking back to Clinton’s 1992 criticism of Sister Souljah, the black activist. Jones also said, although that portion of the video appears to have been edited from the video, that Clinton, otherwise called “The Big Dog”, should be locked up in the “dog house” and not allowed to campaign for his wife anymore. Supported by Rye who runs her organization called “Impact Strategies”, the duo tag-teamed Beckel, a white dude who loves his suspenders, and whose role, during that debate ably moderated by Don Lemon, was to defend Clinton against his two interlocutors’ charges.
If Jones overdid his part, Rye, on the other hand, was truly painful to watch. For Rye epitomized that very ludicrous label often slapped on black folks in the country as excessively raucous and angry. And yes, Rye, blinking furiously, was very raucous and angry and rude as she raised her voice repeatedly to interrupt Beckel who was trying to get his point across. She told Beckel that she was not going to be grateful to Clinton for any of the good things he did for the African-American community when he was president.
Even a week later, Rye still wouldn’t let go. This morning, she was back on CNN on Hillary’s use of the term “super predator” and her husband’s performance in Philadelphia last week. She said:
Hillary Clinton has apologized for using the term superpredator,” Rye acknowledged. “I think the problem is it seemed a little disingenuous when her lead surrogate Bill Clinton was on the trail last week defending not only the term, but the crime bill…
I would argue there’s never been a time for the term ‘superpredator’ to be used to talk about human beings.
For me, while I wasn’t here for slavery, it reminds me of a time when black people were deemed subhuman or less than human, or three-fifths human… I think it’s never okay to use that type of terminology when talking about a group of people, even if they are leaning toward criminal activity.
Believing that no one else is doing more harm to the wife’s campaign than Clinton himself. Michelle Goldberg of Slate magazine echoed Jones’s argument when she wrote that the former president be fired outright as a surrogate for the wife. Goldberg wrote:
One might attribute this repeated clumsiness to the fact that Bill Clinton is getting old; his hearing is bad, and on the trail he looks frail and wan. Perhaps he’s simply slipping, mentally. But let’s remember that Clinton caused similar problems for Hillary in 2008. There was the time he tried to diminish Obama’s victory in South Carolina by noting that Jesse Jackson won there as well. The time he described the idea that Obama had gotten the Iraq war right as “the biggest fairy tale I’ve ever seen.” The time—it hurts to remember it—when he complained that the Obama campaign “played the race card on me.”
And yet, after all that, once Hillary had lost and Bill Clinton was supporting Obama, the sloppiness ceased and he was back to performing superbly. (Witness, for example, his celebrated speech at the 2008 Democratic convention.) It is somehow only when he is working on his wife’s behalf that he veers into sabotage. What is needed here is probably a shrink, not a neurologist. Either he doesn’t want her to overtake him, or he doesn’t want her to repudiate him. Regardless, Hillary should shut him down. She can’t divorce him, but she can fire him.
Perhaps we should first dispose of Goldberg’s nonsensical thinking before returning to the main issue here. Clinton has been, and still remains, the best surrogate any Democrat running for office can have on his or her side. If he slipped up on several occasions in the course of the campaign to put his wife back in the White House, it’s because he’s only human. Clinton, despite his prodigious gifts as a politician, is not perfect. Let’s please remember that.
If Clinton doesn’t want his wife in the White House, he would not have advised her to launch a second bid in the first place. Nor would he even be risking his already fragile health traversing the entire American universe as her own John the Baptist. On a given day, the husband does more campaign events for his wife than even herself does, often going to states that are less hospitable to her as a candidate.
Sure, there are going to be times when such a constant peripatetic engagement takes its toll on you and predisposes you to occasional howlers. Unfortunately for the Clintons, when such minor things happen, the mainstream media magnifies them into something else, into the Ultimate Scandal of the 21st century. For Christ’s sake, Ms. Goldberg, Clinton’s assets overwhelmingly outweigh his liabilities, and it would be foolish, indeed suicidal, for the wife’s campaign to “fire” him simply because of a few sporadic slip-ups on the stump.
Back to the issue. No one has disputed, nor should anyone dispute for that matter, the rightness of the cause which the young folks of BLM have assigned themselves. Despite the many good aspects of that 1994 bill as it applied to crime, the part of it now being litigated by the BLM is both a parchment of horror and a scroll of iniquity. That bill has unfairly victimized the African-American community, and it has to be amended. But amending it is not achieved by the BLM’s continued invasion of campaign venues after its grievances have already been noted by the Clinton campaign, and after both husband and wife have apologized repeatedly for it and promised to redress the injustice.
Although Clinton fumbled in both the tone and the over-the-top vehemence of his pushback, the question, nevertheless, still has to be posed: At what point does one earn the right to express exasperation at the endless invasion of one’s campaign events by members of the movement over the same matter? Or what, other than a commitment to redress the injustice can the Clinton campaign offer at this time? Or as Roland Martin (and that brings us to the third video) asked members of the movement, “What do you want the Clintons to do?”
Martin, a well-known African-American journalist who works for News One Now, had two members of the movement, Rufus Farmer and Erica Mines, come on his program for an interview. The two were among those who had confronted Clinton in Philadelphia. Clearly, Martin didn’t like the kind of exchange Clinton had with the members; clearly, he, like every right-thinking human being, hated aspects of that bill that have made things difficult for members of his own community. That said, Martin demonstrated both the frustration and the dispassionateness that should come with examining how members of the BLM movement have been conducting their business when he repeatedly asked them to tell him what they truly wanted the Clintons to do. Martin kept repeating the question because the members weren’t saying anything meaningful in the context of the present time. He even played a video of Clinton apologizing for the bill, and the only answer one of them (Farmer) could come up with was: “They need to do more.”
As Jones, Rye, Goldberg and many others not named here piled on Clinton last week for that Philadelphia dust up, none of them even bothered to pause to examine the lack of proper organization and control currently plaguing the BLM. Even as she continued to re-litigate the issues involved on CNN this morning, Rye did not so much as address the internal challenges and problems that the BLM is having either.
If you want to know why there appears to be a growing national impatience with the movement, the members’ unending rude behavior, coupled with the reflexive inclination of folks like and Rye to defend them no matter what, are some of the reasons. The cause you’re pleading may be just and meaningful, but without a mature leadership to shepherd it, the cause soon devolves into anarchy. That, essentially, is the biggest problem confronting the Black Lives Matter movement today. Unfortunately, very many of us in the black community are too consumed by passion to realize this and offer a helping hand.