Monday, May 7, 2012

What Color is (Perceived) Legitimacy? Or: Those Damn Kids and Their Rock 'n' Roll

I want to call your attention to an excellent post late last week by Jamelle Bouie, which gets bonus points because he called it "Fear of a Black Polity," which is excellent. I'm not going to quote the main points; just read it.

I do have one quibble. Bouie says that "no one questioned Clinton’s legitimacy because he received 84 percent of African American votes." Well, I don't know about that. People did question Clinton's legitimacy; he did receive the overwhelming majority of African American votes. Are we really certain those things are unrelated? I don't think so. I think the same forces were at work in the past when black voters supported white politicians.

To get away a bit from Bouie's point...the real difference between Clinton and Obama, moreover, at least in my reading is that Clinton was treated as an illegitimate usurper by a lot of the permanent Washington establishment, not just by partisans. I've always believed that a large part of that had to do with the people surrounding the president -- not just African Americans, but women, young people, and others who just didn't look like a typical White House staff and cabinet. You have to remember: before Clinton, there have been twelve years of Republicans in the White House, and whatever you want to say about Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, no one accused either them or their staffs of being young and hip. Seriously; we're talking about people such as Michael Deaver (b. 1938), James Baker (1930), John Sununu (1939), and Dick Darman (1943). It's not just that Bill Clinton was a baby boomer; it's that there was just an enormous cultural gap between what White Houses had always looked like and what the Clinton Administration looked like. Lots and  lots of leaps such as the one from Marlin Fitzwater (b. 1942) to Dee Dee Myers (1961).

Not that Clinton's White House was any model of diversity; one can argue that George W. Bush did better on that score. But compared to what had been in the White House...well, forever, it was both far more diverse and far younger. I'm convinced that a lot of long-time Washingtonians -- themselves, of course, white men born during or before WWII -- looked at the new crowd and just didn't think it looked right. And, yes, I do think that both gender and ethnicity had a fair amount to do with that -- and it wouldn't surprise me if it also had something to do with which voters had supported Clinton.

18 comments:

  1. Two points here. IMO the main reason Clinton was perceived as illegitimate was that he garnered fully 43% of the vote in 1992. For many reasons, this fact is often overlooked by analysts assessing Clinton, Democratic chances for future victories, and so forth. Even in his second time around, he got only 49%. Those wins were actually not that impressive. One of the things about Obama's victory is that it was the first really impressive victory by a Democrat since 1964. In all the thinking about Obama and his disappointments and the current backlash (Tea Party etc.) and so on, the magnitude of his victory and how unusual this is for a Democrat is sometimes lost. It really might be a new era for Democrats after all.

    The other thing is that several years ago -- you probably are aware of this -- Josh Marshall had an intriguing series of posts in which he would quote conservative commentators saying, in so many words, that Democratic vote totals were suspect because Republicans did better among "real," i.e. white, voters. It was kind of fascinating, it didn't even seem like an orchestrated propaganda effort, just unthinking racism.

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  2. As someone who did not question Clinton's legitimacy, I'm probably not well positioned to say what was motivating those who did. But it always seemed to me that it boiled down to the fact that he was from the "wrong" side of the culture-war divide -- someone who was formed in and embraced the '60s instead of either predating that era or joining the backlash against it. I think that would have riled up the right even if his whole Cabinet and senior staff had been clones of Robert Rubin and Warren Christopher.

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    1. ......and also if he'd won a Johnson-style landslide, I might add. In fact, that would have just made the hysteria even worse.

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  3. backyardfoundryMay 7, 2012 at 1:15 PM

    The Grio:

    "Undoubtedly, the chance to make history was a big part of black Americans' unprecedented rush to the polls in 2008, and it proved critical to Obama's election. For example, in North Carolina, a state rich in electoral votes that Obama was not expected to win, his campaign produced 300,000 new black voters."

    Bouie's whole post is self-contradictory, but the last paragraph is disturbing when you consider how unusually avaricious and criminal the Congressional Black Caucus is according to the NYT. Or that other black presidential candidates have been unusually vile (Sharpton and Jackson) or crazy (McKinney).

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    1. It would be interesting to study who and what are particularly "vile" versus those sins that are excusable. We give our friends and political allies much more of a pass than we give to someone from the other camp.

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    2. backyardfoundryMay 7, 2012 at 3:36 PM

      Sharpton:

      "If the Jews want to get it on, tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house."

      http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/individualProfile.asp?indid=1527

      One of a long series of race provocations by perennial democratic favorite and MSNBC drunk Al Sharpton.

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    3. Pat Buchanan anyone? Seriously, some objectionable black pols have nothing to do with black voters in NC registering to vote so that they can vote for Obama.

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    4. backyardfoundryMay 8, 2012 at 4:25 AM

      Eric Beckman,

      I was responding to two elements of Bouie's post. The quote was about whether AAs voted more for Obama because he was black than for Clinton because he was a Democrat. The exit polling percentages I've seen for Obama are all over 90% (84% is more like the Jewish vote for democrats than the AA vote for Obama.) There was also greater AA turnout for Obama.

      The second paragraph was just about Bouie's weird turn at the end and about my resistance to lauding evil and crazy.

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  4. Bouie is missing the point.

    Generally speaking, the argument is not that blacks only support Obama because he is black - although that may be a subsidiary point. The argument is that white liberals only support Obama because he is black.

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    1. That is just a load of BS. Being a part of a large, white, liberal community, I can say I didn't hear one person say anything that even suggested guilt-induced voting for the black guy. Obama inspired EVERYONE, and gave us all a hope that the worst of the Bush/Cheney disaster would be over. His narrative as a mixed-race American who was raised by his white grandparents transcended politics for everyone except the most cynical among us. And, for a lot of white Americans, liberal or otherwise, the prospect of a McCain/Palin ticket scared the frickin' crap out of us. A doddering old f@rt and a vile, vindictive, batsh!t crazy narcissist who could see nothing except the acquisition of power was, for many, enough reason to pull the lever toward the blue side.

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    2. I agree, can you imagine thinking McCain and Palin were the better candidates but pulling the lever for Obama instead? That's a lot of guilt.

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    3. Not guilt. Terror. And completely unrelated to guilt over our racist past. Obama presented as the saner, more even-handed candidate. And, after eight years of "the dark side" of Bush/Cheney, that's what we continue to need.

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    4. So fear of McCain explains why Obama won the nomination over Clinton?

      Of course he's the affirmative action candidate - Democrats wanted the chance to vote for someone "historic." And black outranks female in the identity politics caste system.

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  5. Of course some years before Clinton another Southern governor came to the White House with his own crew of aides and maintained some distance from the social circles of old DC, much to their disgust.

    I'd say JFK was perhaps the last Democratic President embraced by the permanent Washington establishment, perhaps only because the establishment was so much younger those days (i.e Ben Bradley).

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  6. The Washington Establishment is mostly Republican, mostly old, virtually lily-white, and completely cynical and addicted to power. The ascension of someone like Obama was so fear-inducing, their testicles retreated into their body cavities. It is not surprising, therefore, that any narrative would emerge that would try to de-legitimize him. From the real estate agent I met who said, "He'll just do everything to make things easier for the blacks," to the questioning of his "community organizer" background, to his ties to Bill Ayres' living room floor, it has all had the air of racism and "other-ness" about it. The backlash has been vile and un-American. Now, had the Establishment fielded a successful non-white candidate, it would have been the greatest accomplishment in US history.

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    1. I strongly disagree with this. Old and lily-white described fairly well a Washington establishment in 1993; it did not in 2009. Nor, in my view, did whatever Washington establishment that exists treat Obama as illegitimate. Republican rank-and-file, egged on by many Republican opinion leaders, yes. But Washingtonians per se? No, I don't think so.

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  7. I think that Democrats enjoy the idea of a candidate who is brilliant, imaginative, and good at negotiating. Democrats want someone who can get things done, who can change things "for the better."

    If one is a conservative, someone who feels the status quo is a dim shadow of yesteryear's glories, then what Democrats want looks really damn scary. Especially the negotiating part. FDR, Johnson and then Clinton changed the US in materially important ways that conservatives hate, and they did it at least in part by negotiation. By Clinton's time, the right was already boiling over, and he still talked them into an amazing number of things.

    The fallacy here is the idea that any Democratic candidate would look acceptable to the conservatives. Do you honestly think they would have treated Hillary with any more respect?

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    1. > The fallacy here is the idea that any
      > Democratic candidate would look acceptable to
      > the conservatives. Do you honestly think they
      > would have treated Hillary with any more
      > respect?

      This.

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