L. Douglas Wilder, governor of Virginia from 1990 to 1994, was the nation’s first elected African-American governor. His piece at Politico yesterday compares Bill Clinton’s presidency to Obama’s in terms of benefits for blacks and concludes that under Clinton, blacks fared much better.
That conclusion unavoidably reminds us of the Obama campaign’s wildly false accusations of racism against Bill and Hillary Clinton in the 08 primary. Despite the painful irony Wilder’s piece evokes, however, it’s well worth the read.
Referencing Toni Morrison’s comment that Clinton was "America’s first black president," Wilder writes:
Obama was elected in a flourish of promise that many in the African-American community believed would help not only to symbolize African-American progress since the Civil War and Civil Rights Acts but that his presidency would result in doors opening in the halls of power as had never been seen before by black America.
Has that happened? I am forced to say, “No” — especially when comparing Morrison’s metaphorical first black president to the actual first black president.
Think back on a small slice of merely the upper levels of the Clinton administration, and remember how many Cabinet agencies the Arkansan had named African-Americans to lead: Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy, Labor Secretary Alexis Herman, Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary, Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, Veterans Affairs Secretary Jesse Brown, Army Secretary Togo West, who succeeded Brown at Veteran Affairs, Office and Management and Budget Director Franklin Raines and Director of National Drug Control Policy Lee Brown. Clinton also regularly cited Vernon Jordan as a respected adviser and strategist.
Clinton may not have been the nation’s first black president — but he did make appointments like he was. Obama would do well to look a little closer at the Clinton template.
By birth and life experience, Clinton cannot lay claim to the title of first black president — as Morrison knighted him. But Obama needs to work harder to make it less obvious that Clinton, in governing deed, actually deserves it more that the 44th president does.
Read the entire article here: