By Patricia Wilson-Smith
There are many reasons why I support Senator Obama, and they are all very well documented here on BlackWomenForObama.org. But one of the less talked-about reasons for all my hard work, the thing that drives me to continue to get the word out about the Senator by any means necessary, has to do with the phenomenon that can best be described as “The Bill Factor”. Not to be confused with “The Factor” or Fox News or even Bill O’Reilly. Just so you know.
The “Bill Factor” of which I speak of course, is the Bill Clinton factor, and the presumption by most that Hillary Clinton has the black vote on lock because of Bill Clinton’s popularity as former President. For sure, it would be naive of me to think anything other than that Senator Clinton’s name and association to her wildy popular husband makes it very easy to roll over and go to sleep on the rest of the campaign if you’re a black voter. No one could blame us at all if we simply chilled until election day and showed up at the polls to pull the lever for the woman who is the wife of the man affectionately known as the ”First Black President (FBP)”. Or could they?
The fact of the matter is, I’ve never really appreciated the moniker as it has been used with Bill Clinton, I am painfully aware that Hillary Clinton is not her husband, and we are not living in the same times that we were when President Clinton was christened with that title.
I mean it – even now, I’m still really not comfortable with hearing Bill Clinton referred to as the FBP. Please don’t start lobbing grenades, Clinton-lovers. Yes – I am aware of the extra lengths to which the Clinton Administration went to be inclusive to blacks, and yes, I know that he grew up in the Deep South and played with black children, and yes, I can remember watching in amazement with the rest of the nation as he played the jazz saxaphone like an old Kansas City great on Arsenio Hall’s late-night talk show. But still, there is something about referring to him as the FBP that just doesn’t sit well with me. When I really stop to think about it, I think it’s maybe that the idea of seeing Bill Clinton called the FBP back then, felt a little too much like we were admitting that he was as close as we’d ever get to one; as if hoping for an actual black president was just plain… out of the question.
For sure, in a nation where there have only been a handful of black presidential candidates (and up until now, not a single one who could have ever been considered truly viable), it’s easy for many Americans to believe that a President of any race other than the white race is somewhat of an impossibility. But there’s a reason for that, and I’m certain it will be as hard for many to hear as it is for me to type. The reason we’ve never been close to running that truly feasible black candidate is because we’ve never had one who was interested in governing the entire nation, and not just championing the cause of blacks, and all of our socio-economic challenges. Until now. Let that sink in for a moment, then read on.
I can remember as a younger woman, often asking myself why people like Shirley Chisolm, Carol Moseley-Braun and Al Sharpton insisted on wasting tax-payers dollars and their precious time by running a presidential race that they knew they had absolutely no chance of winning. It would take years for me to understand that any delusions they may have actually had of winning not withstanding, each of them also had as their goal, getting issues important to the black community into the national spotlight. That was it, pure and simple, especially in the case of Reverend Al Sharpton. Once I came to that realization, I understood the importance of what those candidates tried to do, and that right or wrong, effective or ineffective, it was an important continuation of the movement for equality for blacks in this country.
The need to use a run for the White House as a political stage for affecting change for the black community has come with a price, however. Now, as a result of us never having a black candidate for President who understands the plight of black communities in the context of the complex political realities of our nation, we are in danger of missing out on a man who could truly be the first Black President, and potentially one of the most unifying and effective presidents our nation has seen in a long time.
We as blacks have been sadly conditioned by the pseudo-campaigns of the black men and women who have made brave runs before, to believe that in order for us to throw our support behind any black candidate, he must be primarily a defender of the black community. I say sadly, because the harsh reality is that for us to do so is to relegate ourselves to a future with no chance of a black President, and that really is sad. As deep and enduring as many of our social problems are, electing a woman because of her marriage to a man who has nothing more than a superficial kinship with our community is a mistake. The problem with all this blind faith in Hillary is that it’s really just a longing for the good ‘ole days of Bill playing the saxaphone for us again. But Bill is not running for President.
Please don’t get me wrong. I admire Hillary Clinton, I really do – what’s not to admire? She’s been grooming herself for the presidency practically from the day she was born, and she’s brilliant. Love her or hate her, you can’t deny that, so as a woman who is constantly striving to break the glass ceiling in corporate America, I can’t help but admire her. But want her to run our country? Uh, not so much.
See, for me, it’s all about timing. It’s about what kind of leader we need now, for where we are as a nation right now. Here we are mired in a bloody, senseless war that we never should have waged in the first place, our reputation around the world has tanked, our most pressing domestic problems still plague us (healthcare, education, the AIDS crisis), and from a global perspective, we’re economically at risk because of soaring trade deficits, our dependence on foreign oil, and the emminent shift of global economic might to Asia.
Billary had their opportunity to bring about change, during a time when we were far less distracted by global issues. I recall that Bill Clinton put some very cool initiatives in place while in office, stuff like the “Community Technology Centers” which were part of the effort by his administration to bridge the digital divide, but Hillary’s flip flopping, her “now I support it, now I don’t” dance around her position on the war in Iraq just does not instill a lot of confidence in me.
There’s much more, of course – Hillary’s failed attempt at reforming healthcare is legendary, and can be attributed to the Clintons’ inability to build consensus across party lines. They made many mistakes in attempting to pass real reforms, like trying to tie the bill to a budget reconciliation plan, and refusing to compromise when moderate legislators suggested they should do so. A proven inability to see both sides of a debate and make tough decisions for the greater good of the nation is key in leading us out of our most serious problems. I believe Senator Obama has proven that he can and will lead justly, negotiate fairly, and perform effectively as President of the United States.
I sense that there is a distinct hesitation among some to broach this subject with Black America, but the power of ”The Bill Factor” cannot be overlooked. It’s going to take everything we can muster to cut through the longing and the sense of nostalgia many feel for Bill Clinton. We can do it, but only if we’re not afraid to confront those who argue passionately that what we need is another chance with Bill in order to make things right. We can do it if we can stand firm and point out the obvious differences in Senator Obama and Hillary Clinton, the least of which is the fact that she’s simply too polarizing a figure to be an effective leader. The absence of political baggage, the wisdom, the integrity, and the vision to unite the nation all make Senator Obama the clear choice. And that would be true even if Bill Clinton were running.