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Race, Public Policy, the Clintons and 2016

A note for our readers: the views reflected by the authors do not reflect the views of ASPA.

By William Carr

Part I

Who Are the Clintons?

Carr 2 julyIf Hillary Rodham Clinton runs for the United States presidency in 2016, the big question is what role her husband will play in her administration if she is the winner. Many feel that Clinton conducted a co-presidency, however it is documented that Hillary embraces her husband’s legacy.

The Pulitzer Prize winning African-American Author Toni Morrison anointed Bill Clinton “The First Black President.” After having been queried as to why she made such a strange proclamation, Ms. Morrison replied that President Clinton had received so much resistance from the conservatives and the Republican Party, that the only comparison to such a phenomenon is if he were indeed African-American “a black on the street, already guilty, already a perp.” In addition to the latter, it is no secret that until the introduction to America of presidential candidate Barrack Obama, Bill Clinton was the pre-eminent Politician and overwhelming favorite among African-American voters.

With Monica Lewinski being an unforced error on Clinton’s part, it was not until Obama’s Presidency that we understood the true depth of resistance endured by the real first black president of the United States. Accordingly, resistance to President Obama began prior to his inauguration and encompassed a concerted effort to deny any of his policy efforts. However, he still produced the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to benefit uninsured citizens.

As a presidential candidate, Bill Clinton followed the lead of his predecessor, Jimmy Carter. Both Carter and Clinton were governors of southern states, Carter was the governor of Georgia and Clinton was the governor of Arkansas. Both men were considered to have centrist or left of center political ideologies. Accordingly, they counted a large percentage of African-American voters among their crucial list of constituents. The combination of their southern roots, along with the overwhelming support of African-American, proved to be a compelling and forceful national political alliance in the post-civil rights era. That political coalition was effective in part because it served to neutralize the potent effect of the Republican Party’s long established “Southern Strategy.”

What is The Southern Strategy?

Prior to the enactment of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Southern Wing of the Democratic Party was rife with segregationists, racists and even Klan’s men. In order to gather enough votes to pass the Civil Rights Bill, President Johnson pulled together a mixed coalition of votes from Republicans and Democrats representatives from across the nation. The Civil Rights Bill was fortunately passed. However, Johnson famously and prophetically said that the “Democrats have lost the South for a generation.”

After the enactment of the law, the Republican Party initiated what was to be termed the Southern Strategy. The Southern Strategy was a concerted effort to use racial antipathy to garner white votes for the benefit of the Republican Party. The Southern Strategy served to turn former Democrats to Republicans; those states are now among the so-called “Red States” as outlined by the election night political maps.

How did the Clinton’s win the hearts of African-American?

Bill Clinton announced himself to America and the world as the “Man from Hope” Arkansas, the announcement portrayed himself as a small town politician with few of the traditional attributes that normally accompany national politics, such as money and enormous corporate political contributions. Clinton’s debut onto the political scene served to welcome all supporters, his message was viewed as inclusive. Specifically, his rhetoric did not specifically include the traditional code words that

African-American’s have grown to be adept at detecting. As a result, Blacks gradually became enamored with his folksy, down-home jargon of candidate Bill Clinton. Clinton’s demeanor was viewed much more acceptable to the traditional African-American voter than that of the double entendre laced dialogue of some of the traditional democratic candidates or the outright insulting dialogue of the Republican candidates who had appeared before them in the past. African-American voter had little in the way of acceptable candidates to choose from prior to Bill Clinton.

Jessie Jackson had surprised his detractors with his successful presidential run in 1984 and 1988. During that time, Jackson had registered more African-American voters than any other candidate. During those campaigns, the media asked the rhetorical question, “What does Jessie Jackson want?” Jackson did not run for the 1992 presidential contest, which left the field wide-open for Clinton to feel safe to count on the African-American vote.

In part II, we will look at the 1992 presidential election campaign and Clinton’s public policy accomplishments.


Author:  ASPA member William Carr, DPA, has 40-years of public agency experience, 20 years in a Court Executive position, primarily in the New Jersey Judiciary. He retired in 2008 as assistant chief probation officer of the New Jersey Superior Court, Probation Division, Essex Vicinage. Currently he is an adjunct professor of criminal justice at Essex County Community College and a fellow of the Institute of Court Management (Williamsburg, Virginia). Carr also serves as vice president of the New Jersey Association of Criminal Justice Educators, is a consulting editor for the the journal, Children & Schools, and is on the board of the New Jersey Association on Corrections. He is in private practice as a licensed clinical social worker in the State of New Jersey. Carr can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @yllib1234.



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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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