I’m troubled about something that John Lewis (D-GA) said yesterday, or didn’t say, about Bernie Sanders. I might not even have taken much notice of it except that it happened to dovetail with something else I was reading at the same time.
Lewis made the announcement (during which he seemed angry, I might add) that he and the Congressional Black Caucus were supporting Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president. Okay. Fine. That’s his business, and his prerogative. But he was so fired up and, as I said, I initially thought he looked angry, when the following happened:
“When a reporter asked Lewis to comment on Sanders’ involvement in the movement—Sanders as a college student at the University of Chicago was active in civil rights work—the congressman brusquely interrupted him. “Well, to be very frank, I’m going to cut you off, but I never saw him, I never met him,” Lewis said. “I’m a chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee for three years, from 1963 to 1966. I was involved in the sit-ins, the freedom rides, the March on Washington, the march from Selma to Montgomery, and directed their voter education project for six years. But I met Hillary Clinton. I met President Clinton.”
Hmm. That doesn’t sound right because the timeline doesn’t make sense. And, oddly enough, it seems a very deliberate attempt to malign Bernie Sanders at the PRECISE MOMENT that his support of civil rights and black voters matters the most, possibly the most in his entire, long, political life.
I’ll start not with the thing that made me suspicious about Lewis’ blatant swipe at Bernie (which follows), but something I found later which was dug up by Jazz Shaw, and which appeared on the website Hotair.com. It’s a lengthy direct quote from John Lewis which appeared in a book about Bill Clinton by his biographer, Janis Kearney, called, “Conversations: William Jefferson Clinton: From Hope to Harlem.” John Lewis explains:
“The first time I heard of Bill Clinton was in the early ’70s. I was living in Georgia, working for the Southern Poverty Law organization, when someone told me about this young, emerging leader in Arkansas who served as attorney general, then later became governor.
I think I paid more attention to him at the 1988 Democratic Convention, when he was asked to introduce the presidential candidate and took up far more time than was allotted to him. After he became involved with the Democratic Leadership Council, I would run into him from time to time. But it was one of his aides, Rodney Slater, who actually introduced us in 1991 and asked me if I would support his presidency.”
Shaw correctly points out that there is still no mention of Hillary Clinton. And John Lewis goes on to say (in the book):
“Rodney gets the credit for convincing me that Bill Clinton was “the man,” when he told me all he had done in Arkansas to help change the layout of that state. In the summer of 1991, I hosted a breakfast for him in the Rayburn building. Congressmen Mike Espy and Bill Jefferson were there. The three of us were trying to convince the Democratic Black Caucus to endorse Clinton. Most Northern members didn’t know him and wasn’t very interested. Only a few members of the black Caucus came to the breakfast, but those of us there had a wonderful discussion. Several staff people came from different offices, and they all came back to me later to say how wonderful he was.
What was so striking about Bill Clinton was that here was a governor and a presidential candidate, and he actually made you feel as if he knew he needed you. He was warm, engaging, and comfortable with the African American audience. We literally began to feel he was one of us. The people there were amazed to see this white Southerner so comfortable around blacks.”
I highly suggest that people read the whole piece about John Lewis and the Clintons here which was written by Jazz Shaw. He smelled a rat. The timing was off. I think he’s right.
When will politicians understand that we can ALL now easily look up stuff? I think John Lewis is not being truthful. I expected much better of him. Like football fields long better. And he’s probably going to be outed about this, which also explains why I initially thought he sounded angry when announcing his support for Clinton, who he claims he met during the 60’s. After digging into this, I now think it’s not so much that he was angry, as that he was defensive. Who knows? Maybe the DNC made him do it. He did, after all, switch his support from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama in 2008. Funny that even back then, he never mentioned Hillary Clinton, the March on Washington, Bill Clinton also being there and everyone meeting up at all those civil rights events in the 1960’s. Ever. Until now. Because I don’t think it happened that way.
I’ll leave it to someone else to figure out why Lewis would do this to Bernie Sanders. It’s ugly, petty, and unbecoming of a civil rights legend. This was a really low blow. If I was Bernie, I have to admit, my feelings would be hurt.
But even before I found Jazz Shaw’s article, there was something else, something much less tangible about Lewis’ snarky claim that he met Bill and Hillary Clinton during his civil right activism in the 1960’s but there was sure no sign of Bernie Sanders, that set off alarm bells.
After I wrote about Madeleine Albright’s comment that women should go to hell if they didn’t support Hillary Clinton, I predictably got a lot of blowback from other Democrats and other women. Along with one of those criticisms came a link for me to read which went to Hillary Clinton’s speech in front of her graduating class at Wellesley College in 1968. Okay. Fine. I didn’t know what to expect when I opened the link to then-Hillary Rodham’s speech (you might want to read it before going further so I don’t prime you about it).
Keep in mind that it was the intent of one of my readers, when sending the speech to me, to hold it up as some sort of proof that Clinton has long been a great politician, revolutionary thinker, and staunch advocate for women’s rights. So that’s basically what I was fully expecting to read – something rousing, moving, inspirational. What I got was the ugly flip side of that. Here is my annotated copy. If it’s hard to read, click on it to enlarge:
In fact, it was so bad that I asked a friend, who is an award-winning and much-published writer, to read it and tell me what she thought. I figured that my own confirmation biases were getting in the way (even though I had fully anticipated that the speech would be good) and clouding my judgment. Here’s what happened next:
Me: “So, what did you think about the Wellesley speech?”
Her: “It sounds like someone having a stroke”
Me: “What do you mean?”
Her: “Well, even if it was an unplanned speech which she hadn’t written down first, it’s just SO bad. It rambles, makes no point at all, one part has nothing to do with another. It says nothing. It means nothing.”
Me: “I think it was written down and that she planned what she’d say beforehand. I think she knew she was making a speech for her graduation.”
Her: “Then there’s no explanation for it. No excuse.”
Okay, so I wasn’t imagining that it was horrible. Plus, as some sort of feminist and champion of fighting racism, that speech extra-sucks. She refers to virtually everyone as “man,” and not in the “mankind” sense. Her examples of outstanding things or people are…bizarre. It’s not even that it’s just immature or sophomoric. It’s just disturbingly simple-minded, like something an impressionable 6th grader would write in Social Studies Class, if even that. And keep in mind that she was graduating from what is supposedly an incredibly good school, sort of Ivy League (one of the original Seven Sisters – WASPY as hell).
I had to look further into Clinton’s (then Rodham) early years after looking at that speech. What I found was really not what I expected, and in the worst possible sense. What I WAS expecting was big thinking, dynamism and charisma (not that she has it now, but I assumed she did have it at some time), lots of liberal activism…a champion of the under dog. Nope. Not even close. She wasn’t even in the country code of what I expected.
First of all she went to an all girl’s, isolated, pampered, and privileged college. It was nearly 100% white. While Bernie was doing sit-ins, getting arrested for protests against racial injustice as part of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, referred to as Snick) not very far from Hillary Rodham’s house in Illinois, SHE was, if anything, helping out with the campaign of Republican Barry Goldwater. In fact, she was a Goldwater Girl (by her own admission). She was a Republican, from a staunchly Republican household, going to an all-white, all-girl uppity college. And while the rest of the country, and college campuses around the world (Bernie Sanders was right in the middle of it, protesting) were rioting, picketing, taking hostages, getting arrested, riding buses to demonstrations, and burning shit down, Hillary Clinton was doing, well, not much.
This SAME period is when John Lewis claims he DID meet both Bill and Hillary Clinton, but Bernie was nowhere in sight, because Bill and Hillary were totally out there, also rioting, picketing, getting arrested. Except that claim seems to be not only far-fetched, but impossible.
If this New York Times article from 2007 doesn’t put the proverbial nail in the coffin about many long-held fables about Hillary Clinton, then nothing does (be sure to read the very, very bottom where some dodgy Letter of Recommendation for Clinton to get into Yale ends up being so wonky that the New York Times yanks it). Among the many innocuously-intended, yet stunningly telling observations in the article, for me at least, are gems like:
“Ms. Rodham had arrived at Wellesley in the fall of 1965, a decorated Girl Scout and teacher’s pet from a Republican household in the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge, Ill. She had distributed leaflets for Mr. Goldwater’s presidential campaign the previous fall and was determined to rise quickly through the moribund ranks of Wellesley’s Young Republicans chapter.”
“Her (Hillary’s)handwritten remarks — on file in the Wellesley archives — abound with abbreviations, crossed-out sentences and scrawled reinsertions, as if composed in a hurry. Yet Ms. Rodham’s words are neatly contained between tight margins. She took care to stay within the lines, even when they were moving so far and fast in 1968…”
“While student leaders at some campuses went to the barricades, Ms. Rodham was attending teach-ins, leading panel discussions and joining steering committees. She preferred her “confrontation politics” cooler.”
The thing that blew me away about everything I read about Hillary Rodham Clinton’s past, no matter how far back I went, was that she was never, ever an original thinker, a mover and a shaker (by any definition), a real liberal, an innovator, or even much of a stand out. The sad, and most truthful, thing I can say is that she’s less than interesting, she’s a follower, not a leader, and she’s entirely corruptible. This made, and makes, me feel sort of sorry for her, except for the fact that her opportunism has proven quite dangerous. She may be book smart (although I’m not even sure about that), she may possibly be rote-smart, but basically she’s extraordinarily unextraordinary. If I had to guess, I’d say that William Jefferson Clinton was the shiniest, slickest thing she’d ever been around when they did eventually meet in 1970 at Yale (which doesn’t jive with John Lewis’ timeline). In her, he may have seen an insecure, uncertain girl with daddy-issues who was fairly malleable, doting, and hard working, more like good luggage or a mule. And it pains me to say that, by the way, but Bill Clinton was also an opportunist, and the chip on his shoulder (about where he came from) conveniently didn’t compete with any of her hang ups.
We are all products of our time, and influenced by what we experience. Hillary Clinton kept her distance from college movements in the 1960’s despite what John Lewis is trying to claim. She admitted to finding the social movements of the 60’s messy, disorderly, and disdainful. Even Lewis’ own SNCC, which Bernie was a member of, got this snub by Clinton:
As the NYT reporter says (without judgment):
“Ms. Rodham, who met Dr. King after a speech in Chicago in 1962, had admired his methodical approach to social change, favoring it over what she considered the excessively combative methods of groups like the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, or S.N.C.C., pronounced snick.”
I have absolutely no idea why John Lewis touts Hillary Clinton’s credentials as someone he met during his work with SNCC, while he was marching, or as he did sit-ins. I know that he was 100% there, but the other parts don’t add up. If she was involved in any of that (and she did attend the March on Washington, as did Bernie Sanders, and 200,000 other people) it would have been WAY before Hillary Rodham met Bill Clinton at Yale, so what are the odds that John Lewis MET them both, and they didn’t meet each other?
Plus, as I’ve said, John Lewis is quoted in the book written about Bill Clinton saying he didn’t meet Bill Clinton until decades later (1991), and with not even a mention of Hillary, who did meet Martin Luther King Jr., because she was brought with a group of kids (she was a kid). There is zero evidence that John Lewis was there, by the way. I thought that might be some sort of explanation for his comments. I suppose she’d have stood out at some other 1960’s civil rights event, mainly because she would have practically been an unsupervised kid (with a staunch Republican father who wouldn’t have been there with her), but Bernie would have stood out, too, and he was a member of some of Lewis’ very same organizations (SNCC and CORE). Keep in mind that also during this period, Hillary Rodham was alternating between Republican Party jobs/events and Democratic Party jobs/events.
I hope that people will push back on what John Lewis has done to Bernie Sanders’ true and real credentials as a life-long fighter for civil rights. It will be touchy to do, though, on many levels. I doubt Bernie will get involved. And it saddens me that the good work of John Lewis gets caught in the ugly shadow of presidential politics; however, most of all, it makes me angry. Lewis is deliberately trying to pull the rug out from under Bernie Sanders. And make no mistake about it, Bernie has been on that rug for many, many years and as a much more unwavering advocate than Hillary, both when she was “Rodham” and when she became “Clinton.” I’m sure it feels like a huge betrayal for Bernie. Donald Trump is clearly not the only one in politics who is so out of touch that he prattles on about stuff that did not happen, expecting people won’t a) look it up, and b) hold him accountable.
John Lewis is not my idol although I do like him a lot. But I’m not black and I don’t get to just latch on to his struggle and his life-long fight against racism and injustice in America. My heart and my brain empathize and sympathize, but I’ve rarely understood, at a deep level, what it’s like to be considered “other.” Once, in college, I attended a Louis Farrakhan rally at the LA Forum in Inglewood. There were around 15,000 people there. I definitely stood out as the only blonde that I personally saw. My boyfriend at the time, Jeff, wanted to go with me. As we lined up outside the Forum to enter the building, they split us up and separated the men from the women (we didn’t know this was going to happen), and we all went into this huge arena from opposite sides of the building. This was way before cell phones, so we ended up not finding each other at all during Farrakhan’s speech. Maybe I was clueless or naive (but I don’t think I was either), but I wasn’t afraid or concerned about being there by myself for one second even though Farrakhan’s speech was potentially inciteful.
The thing I did feel was different, and not entirely belonging there. I knew I didn’t fit it, but never, ever did I experience anything except awe and fascination about what Farrakhan was preaching. It was extreme, to be sure, but I wanted to hear him. People at that gathering, from start to finish, were the nicest, kindest, most polite people I ever experienced at an event of that size, regardless of what, or where, it was. And from that perspective, my time at the LA Forum was decidedly different than the hate, distrust, and abuse that many black people experience in America today.
At the end of the evening, Jeff and I found each other outside and talked about what Farrakhan had been saying. Jeff is of Italian descent, so he’s got dark curly hair and fairly dark skin, but he still definitely does not look black. His experience was the same as mine, and he wasn’t surprised about that, either. We ended up stopping at a fast food restaurant near the Forum. We used the restrooms, and there was a line in the ladies room. Again, I was the only white person. At that point, and only at that time, a woman in line looked at me and said, “you don’t belong here.” That was all she said. The other women in line told her to be quiet, they scolded her. That was it. I didn’t get beaten up, shot at, there was really no disrespect or injustice, but I did, at that moment, up close and next to each other in a line at Carl’s Jr., feel like I was hated by that woman. By one person. It felt shameful. I felt ashamed. My cheeks turned bright red. That was 31 years ago, and I not only vividly remember the ugly part of that brief moment, but, more importantly, the fact that the other women, who were all black, instantly stood up for me. That doesn’t say much for white America, in my opinion. Or maybe it’s just “institutional white America,” because, again, maybe I’m being naive, but I think that if the situation were color – reversed, white people would do the same for “black me” in a line. Or maybe I’m being overly optimistic.
I’ve had that “gift” of being the only white person in a large gathering, area, or event (D.C., Los Angeles, Latin America, etc.) quite a few times. I say “gift” because it’s invaluable to be able to experience what others feel, often every day, even if my experience was fleeting, momentary, and luckily didn’t end, for me, like it ends for many who experience racism in the United States.
I hope there’s an explanation for what John Lewis said about meeting the Clintons during his civil rights activism in the 60’s. But the explanation is not for me, it’s not to make me feel better, but it would be for Bernie and for all those who hold John Lewis up as their idol, and as their beacon of hope. Because that’s what Bernie is for me.
UPDATE 2/12/16 8:58pm: I just came across this article on The Intercept which explains a lot about John Lewis and the endorsement for Hillary Clinton.