Sen. Bernie Sanders and his rising lead in Iowa may have been the big draw for CNN's Democratic Town Hall Monday night at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, but it was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who turned in a masterful performance.
She expertly answered questions on domestic and foreign policy; she revealingly stated that Republicans “like her” when she's in office—a nod to the political theater inherent in the two-party system—and she managed to appear both effortlessly presidential and approachable at the same time.
Though the topics of racism and state-sanctioned violence in the form of police brutality were rather conspicuously missing from the town hall—save for some solid statements from former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who clearly came to make his mark—as Clinton’s performance came to its conclusion, a young, fresh-faced voter asked her to name her favorite president.
Her answer—our pragmatic 16th president, Abraham Lincoln—is interesting, and probably her most (unintentionally) revealing statement to date on her true feelings on white supremacy in the United States, the Movement for Black Lives and the use of black bodies as political capital.
After saying that Lincoln “was willing to reconcile and forgive,” presumably the traitors of the Confederate States of America, she expounded on her great admiration for Honest Abe:
“ … I don’t know what our country might have been like had he not been murdered, but I bet that it might have been a little less rancor, a little more forgiving and tolerant than might possibly have brought people back together more quickly,” Clinton said. “But instead, you know, we had Reconstruction, we had the reigns of segregation and Jim Crow. We had people in the South feeling totally discouraged and defiant. So, I really do believe he could have very well put us on a different path.”
This different path, one that ultimately led to the civil rights movement, the black power movement and their various reincarnations—most recently in the form of the Movement for Black Lives—may have been more tumultuous; however, it’s worth noting how expendable black lives were to Lincoln then and what that says about Hillary Clinton now and, to a large degree, the Democratic Party.
In an 1862 letter to Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, Lincoln had this to say on the fractured Union he was determined to save as tensions mounted between the North and the South at the height of the Civil War:
I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be ‘the Union as it was.’ If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause.
My Clinton translation: Black lives are not my top priority, nor the priority of the United States of America, but if ever and whenever focusing on dismantling white supremacy is good for this great country of ours and for me, I will be more than willing to discuss it. I am looking to restore the Union, not to reform or reimagine the Union and what it should be, unless, of course, it’s convenient.
In Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter From Birmingham Jail (pdf), he wrote about the problematic nature of some white liberals:
First, I must confess that over the past few years, I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace, which is the absence of tension, to a positive peace, which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
This sounds like both Hillary Clinton—who infamously chided Black Lives Matter activists on their strategy—and her “favorite president,” Abraham Lincoln.
Be clear: When black America’s needs are either prioritized or ignored solely as a matter of political expediency, there is no progress; there is only a “negative peace.”
In my forthcoming interview with Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein, we discuss not only the ways in which the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are different, but also how they are the same. This is something that black voters would do well to keep in mind as the 2016 election cycle continues and we look closely at all candidates, and what they are willing to stand for and settle for in their quest for the White House.