Posted December 11, 2015
- A Book Review-
Joy-Ann Reid Examines “Fracture: Barack Obama, the Clintons, and the Racial Divide”
By Arelya J. Mitchell, Publisher/Editor-in-Chief
The Mid-South Tribune
and the Black Information Highway
“Fracture: Barack Obama, the Clintons and the Racial Divide” by Joy-Ann Reid is incomplete, but that shouldn’t keep you from starting it or not from being satisfied by the fact that there is no end. Reid’s book leaves you up in the air because it awaits the end of the 2016 presidential election which could toss another Clinton into the White House. This one would be Hillary Clinton, former First Lady, U.S. Senator, and former Secretary of State in the administration of her one-time rival, President Barack Obama who snatched the Democrat nomination from her in 2008.
Reid, a national correspondent at MSNBC, begins her analysis of a ‘fractured’ Democratic party with a chapter entitled “1964”. At the beginning of this is a 1961 quote from Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, predicting there would be a “Negro” president: “…There is prejudice now, there’s no reason that in the near and the foreseeable future that a Negro could also be president of the United States.” Ironically, this prediction was in the year Barack Obama was born. Bill and Hillary Clinton were youngsters and were already showing interest in politics.
Why not start with 1964? That year was the turning point for a party that was once almost exclusively affiliated with the KKK, Jim Crow and segregation transform into a party which became almost exclusively affiliated with the Civil Rights Movement and Black loyalty. This chapter sets the tone and historical canvass upon which Reid paints why there is this Racial Divide.
By de facto, “1964” has become symbolic of this nation’s turning point in trying to seal the Racial Divide. It was the year the Civil Rights Bill became law. It was the year of Freedom summer, the murder of the three civil rights workers Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner, the year Fannie Lou Hamer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party challenged the establishment’s Democratic Party. These events morphed the Democratic Party into Black America’s savior party. Eventually it became the party which would first label a white man as America’s ‘first Black president’ in the person of Bill Clinton until the real thing came along in the person of Barack Obama.
It takes Reid awhile to get to the 2008 presidential election, the meat of her framework of analysis on which she uses two determinants to further illustrate this transformation of the Democratic Party, the Clintons and Barack Obama. The party had already begun to fracture in the 1950’s when disenchanted southern party members began labeling themselves Dixiecrats. During what was leading up to even more turmoil in civil rights issues, these Dixiecrats became the foundation of today’s Republican Party which had once been the party of Lincoln and abolitionism and the party which gave the nation the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments as answers to slavery.
About one-third of Reid’s book retraces a history of the 1964 Civil Rights Movement going back and forth retrieving portions of the 1950’s and 1970’s to define further the significance of 1964. This re-tracing serves well as a lesson for millennials who seem to know nil or perhaps in too many instances seem not to care about this crossroad in American history. For the rest it serves as a refresher’s course and a sobering reminder that even though both a nation and a party have come far, there is still a ‘racial divide’.
Reid’s book is political drama.
As stated earlier, a white Bill Clinton was dubbed the first ‘Black president’ before the legitimate Black president came in the form of Obama. The fact that Bill Clinton was labeled as such connotes his importance and/or endearment to the bulk of African American voters. So, when the race for the 2008 presidential nomination was launched, it seemed inevitable that Bill Clinton’s wife, Hillary, would be a shoe-in to garner the loyalty and the bulk of the Black vote. This could be viewed as an implied promissory note on behalf of Black Americans to the Clintons. So when an upstart Black U.S. Senator from Illinois jumped into the race, hell and confusion broke loose and the stage was set for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to battle for that ‘first’ symbolic position in American politics: Hillary to become the first female president or for Barack Obama to become the ‘first’ legitimate Black president, knocking off the pretender, Bill Clinton.
Reid is bold because she has the guts not to tiptoe around the agony many Black Americans were going through when Barack Obama jumped in and inflicted the agony of indecision in Black America. Outside of Illinois, it is safe to say that most African Americans had not heard of this Black man with a peculiar Afro-centric name. Where the heck did he come from? Who was he? Reid’s analysis strongly mirrors what was going on in Black households, churches, barber and beauty shops, and in our own newsroom at the time. One of our political columnists (a member of the Greatest Generation) who was a strong Hillary supporter stated vehemently that Obama was not really a Black American because he was not of Black slave origin. As editor-in-chief, I made some calls myself to Illinois colleagues and other political pundits to get a ‘feel’ about him. Even before we journeyed to the Democratic Convention in Denver to cover this historic event, we zeroed in on the behavior of Blacks who simply thought it best to shut up, and quietly give their support to the upstart from Illinois. It was tolerated that Obama couldn’t make much of an overture to the Black community without inflicting a discomfort on whites. He had to play the game. Yes, in a strange sense it was forgivable that he not come too near Black communities, because it was understood that he – like it was with essentially any Democrat nominee—already had the Black Vote locked up and ready to roll. Even after Obama threw his pastor, Jeremiah Wright (who served in the military), under the bus, Black America remained silent, again with the muted consensus that this Black candidate had to play it safe and tiptoe around the race issue until he got into office, and then maybe—just maybe— it would be safe for him to acknowledge that he was ‘Black’ in spite of being an ‘African American’ rootless in Black slave origins.
In the newsroom, the joke was ‘well, he is Black’. ‘He looks Black’. ‘He has got to have some Black African in him because of his daddy’. Of course, such conversations could get on a level of what I call absurd seriousness because ‘color’ theoretically should not have had anything to do with anything but realistically, it does in the ‘Racial Divide’ and in American politics. We ended up endorsing him in the primary and later for president.
Reid explores in-depth the ‘fracture’ inside the Black community in depicting the few but very outspoken Obama detractors such as Tavis Smiley who viewed what became Obama’s classic speech addressing race which was prompted by videos of Rev. Wright’s fiery sermon on the treatment of Blacks in America which in essence harkened back to political sermons in Black churches during the Civil Rights Movement. It is safe to say that most Blacks viewed Wright’s outrage as justifiable and historic anger; whereas, whites and mainstream media took it as Wright being unpatriotic.
Reid writes: “Tavis Smiley was speaking at a banquet in Miami Gardens, Florida. Though he began the speech by referring to Obama as a ‘friend of mine,’ he then laid into Obama for ‘throwing Jeremiah Wright under the bus’ and said, ‘If you’re gonna condemn the remarks every time someone shows you a transcript, you’re gonna be throwing Negroes under the bus every week.’ He then added, ‘We ain’t got to demonize ‘us’ to prove our loyalty to ‘them’.”
To reiterate, I would venture to say that many Black Americans felt as did Smiley, but simply shut up for the sake of history being made.
In addition to Smiley such Black critics as Dr. Cornel West, Conrad Worrill, and Bobby Rush didn’t mind hurting Obama’s feelings or going against the ebony grain. And recounting such is when—dare I say— Reid gets into some juicy stuff, such as Worrill in a Los Angeles Times article flat out stating: “When white folks begin to put their arms around a black person, there’s always been suspicion.”
Yes, yes there is, and one would have thought that the Obama campaign would have taken such rhetoric to heart, but in actuality the campaign seemingly didn’t care about what Black America thought because it had the Black Vote locked up. In covering the campaign, we found in fact an arrogance among Obama’s white handlers which indicated that they took the Black Vote to another level of ‘taking the Black Vote for granted’ where this traditional Democratic voting bloc was ignored with as much indifference as Republicans ignored it. To repeat, the Black Vote was already a done deal.
To illustrate the point of the Obama camp disregarding Black sentiment in the form of the Black leadership, Reid points out from the onset of his campaign, Obama had decided that he didn’t need the traditional Black leadership’s blessing to embark on his journey or even to finish it. He didn’t. In fact, one can say this was his strategy in ‘fracturing’ the Racial Divide to secure white votes – to be specific white middle class votes, even though Reid doesn’t flat out mention such a strategy. Such a strategy is implied simply by Obama’s actions. I would have liked to have seen her explore further that implied strategy.
Reid recounts: “…Obama had other patches of ground to take. He needed to conquer the territory occupied by the black establishment in Washington, which didn’t know him and which saw itself as the political gatekeeper for black America, and he needed to take and hold the political battlefield littered with black America’s doubts and prove to black voters that he, with or without the blessing of their traditional leaders, could fulfill their wildest dreams.”
In launching a successful Internet and social media campaign (a strategy unheard of at the time), the Obama camp went over the establishment’s Black leadership’s head.
Contrary to what Reid writes here, Obama didn’t have to prove much to Black voters because the ‘blessing of their traditional leaders’ was no longer needed anyway in a 21st Century Black America that seldom looked to the same type of leadership of a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., or a Rev. Jesse Jackson, or of the NAACP, or of the old guard which was sparked in the 1950’s with the brutal killing of Emmett Till and Mrs. Rosa Park’s civil disobedience both of which benchmarked “1964”. The era of charismatic Black leadership was already in a state of diminishing when Obama came onto the scene.
Because of this wobbly state of Black leadership, the Clinton campaign got bushwhacked in not believing that the Black Vote would throw them overboard for the sake of making Black history, if not American history. The bulk of Black voters decided that a ‘first’ real Black president must trump that of getting a ‘first’ female president who happened to carry the surname of Clinton but was still white. The Clintons seemingly never fathomed such disloyalty even when it was staring them in the face.
In high drama, Reid depicts the Clintons’ disbelief through Emil Jones who is described as Obama’s mentor and who was pitching on Obama’s behalf to some Clinton Black supporters. She paints on her canvass: “Jones argued that Obama had the characteristics to lead the country. ‘He’s young, he’s articulate, he knows the issues’.” And then Reid adds her brush strokes: “… [T]hen Jones leveled the unkindest cut of all. ‘We don’t owe anybody anything,’ he [Jones] said. ‘What [Bill] Clinton did for the blacks he did because he was supposed to do it. He got our votes, so we were entitled to everything we got. He didn’t do us any favors. We don’t owe anybody anything.” Jones had delivered this diatribe at a DNC staffers caucus meeting in which representatives from both presidential camps wanted to talk about staying “neutral” in attacking each other. Reid describes the mood of the meeting: “[Jones] then launched into his pitch, taking particular note of the front row, where Donna Brazile, Minyon Moore, and other Democratic political veterans sat quietly. Many in the room owed long and valuable careers to the Clintons…” Moore, who was Hillary Clinton’s director of African American outreach, “stood and walked out of the room” after Jones’ denouncement.
All throughout the campaign, the Clintons seemingly remained astonished in a realm of white naiveté.
“The Clintons meanwhile, for the first time faced the possibility that the Obama moment had broken the spell of Hillary’s inevitability. Obama was claiming the fertile political territory of ‘hope’ and ‘change,’ to which Hillary responded, ‘We can’t have false hopes. We’ve got to have a person who can walk into that Oval Office on day one and start doing the hard work that it takes to deliver change’,” Reid expounds.
Reid recounts through a former campaign worker how: “The Clintons were really pissed-off… ‘Not because they were losing to an African American man, but to a man who had been in the Senate all of two years. They couldn’t understand it…’ ”
Throughout “Fracture”, Reid captures just how pissed-off both camps and their respective supporters were: “…Bill and Hillary Clinton were burning up the phone lines looking to lock down Hillary’s African American political support base. Hillary already had endorsements in hand from a third of the Congressional Black Caucus, many of whose members had long personal ties to the Clintons and believed Mrs. Clinton’s victory to be a foregone conclusion. Few of them knew Obama well.”
It’s this height of ‘pisstivity’ that gives Reid’s book an authenticity that those of us who have long covered politics know how smelly backroom politics can and will get.
Again, Reid doesn’t let you down with this drama in politics in “Fracture: Barack Obama, the Clintons, and the Racial Divide”. Her publisher: William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, might also do well to pitch Reid’s book to white millennials who could brush up on “1964”. Mainstream publishers have the propensity to think merely because an author is African American that their works are exclusively for African Americans; therein lies the eddy how worthy political works get drowned—yes, because of systemic racism in established publishing houses where such books are usually lost after publication because of the ‘color’ of their author.
Hopefully, Reid will take up where she left off with results and analysis of a post election 2016 regardless if Hillary Clinton wins or not. Yes, I would have liked to have seen Reid go deeper in examining this ‘Fracture’, but as the work stands now, it more than suffices in a political analysis of a historic race in both black and white and in male and female. And that is also reason enough why it deserves a serious movie treatment in the political genre that depicts such historic events.