Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Hillary Clinton’s “Macaca Moment.”

When former Sen. George Allen (R-VA), once one of the GOP’s stars and seen as a major presidential contender, referred to an independent, student journalist filming the campaign as “Macaca,” an apparent racial slur, it wasn’t just a gaffe or a stumble. It was also an opening for VA voters to consider seriously for the first time the candidacy of his challenger, Jim Webb, a former Republican who was Sec. of Navy under Reagan and whose son was serving in Iraq–but who was strongly against the war and running for the Senate to stop it.  Since VA, like the rest of the U.S. in ’06 (and still–the latest numbers are 68% of the population wanting the troops home within 6 months and 85% of Democrats wanting the same!) wanted to end the Iraq War, they gave Allen the boot and welcomed Webb.

I have no idea whether or not George Allen is a racist or intended his “Macaca comment” to be a racial slur. (I had never heard the term before the controversy.) But the term has now entered the U.S. political lexicon as a huge, possibly fatal, gaffe on matters of race.  Earlier this week, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) had her very own “Macaca moment.”

She was telling USA Today why she should remain in the race for the Democratic nomination. That she had a coalition that was more electable than Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL)’s coalition  in the general election because “she had the hard working, working class white people.”  Well. I am a white Southern male. I come from working class roots (and she doesn’t). Although I have spent time in the ivory towers of the academy and in other white collar situations, I currently work a blue collar job for the union based health insurance and other benefits.  I have to tell you, I found Clinton’s comments insulting.  It seemed like she was trying to recreate Richard Nixon’s Southern strategy or channeling the ghost of (former Alabama Gov.) George Wallace and saying, “Vote for me. You and I are white together–not like YOU KNOW WHO!”  I felt that I was being called a racist and urged to vote for because I am (supposedly) a racist at the same time.  That was incredibly insulting.

Clinton has insulted me and other Obama supporters throughout the primaries.  We are not the right kind of voters. We live in the “wrong” states. We are college educated or college students. We make too much money (Is she kidding me?  First off, my wife and I work 3 jobs to make less than $45,000 for a family of 4–in which we are trying to save for both our children’s upcoming college costs and our retirement–as the GOP keeps trying to privatize Social Security. Second, she and Bill made $109 million since leaving the White House. WHO makes too much money!!!) We are too intellectual. And now, we are not white working class. Well, I AM BOTH a highly educated intellectual AND white working class. And I am proud to support Obama.

BTW, by calling the white working class voters who support her “hard working” is she implying that African-Americans are lazy?  I’d expect a comment like this from Trent Lott (former GOP Sen. from Mississippi), but this is Hillary Clinton. What gives?

Yes, Clinton has done better among white working class voters than Obama. But it’s not like Obama has not had any voting for him. In some states, including Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, and Alabama, he got the majority of white voters as well as the majority of black voters.  In many states, he won where there are hardly ANY African Americans (e.g., Iowa, Wisconsin, Washington State, Vermont, Idaho, Wyoming, etc.) Yes, some of those states will NOT likely go Democratic in the Fall. And, YES, Clinton’s edge with white, working class voters in OH, PA, WV, and KY gives her the (current) edge in the Electoral College delegate math.  But, as everyone knows, that edge is fluent.  And, if she urges her supporters to support Obama in the general election, there is no reason to think that enough of them won’t help him win.  Nationally, he is once more out-polling (slightly) Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) after falling behind him during the month long smears in March.

Look, Democrats cannot win the White House without working class whites in key states, it’s true.  But neither can they win without African-Americans (13% of the population that votes 90% Democratic). For Hillary to try to create or widen divisions instead of healing them shows that her desire to be president is outweighing the interests of the Party and the Nation.  I hate to see her and Bill Clinton, who used to try for national dialogues on race to try to address our divisions, now become remembered for race-bating. But they have been guilty of it at several times during this campaign. Now, it seems Hillary is trying to get in touch with her inner Klansman and urging whites in WV and KY (and superdelegates) to do the same.  This blue collar evangelical WASP from the South says–“No thanks!”

P. S.: Jimmy Carter in 1976 was the last Democrat to win the majority of white working class voters. Bill Clinton only got 39% of white males in ’92 and owed his election to Ross Perot. John Kerry only had the same % of white males as Obama does at this point in the ’04 campaign, but went on to lose the popular vote by less than 1%.  I don’t know if Obama will get the majority of the white working class, but in a year in which the economy stinks, in which 68% of Americans want the troops withdrawn from Iraq(not stay indefinitely as McCain urges), and in which the GOP brand-name itself is very unpopular (as recently both Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich both warned their GOP colleagues!), I think it quite possible that Obama can win enough white working class voters that, combined with the other parts of the coalition, can beat McCain in November.  John Kerry lost in ’04 by less than 1 million votes. In the 7 primaries that culminated in PA, alone, there have been 1.8 million new Democratic voters. Obama, who has great experience in voter registration drives, just launched a 50 state voter registration drive that hopes to register millions of new voters between now and November.  He’s growing the Party. Clinton is pandering to racial stereotypes.  What has happened to her?


May 10, 2008 - Posted by | prejudice, race, U.S. politics


  1. Bob Herbert has an interesting NY Times op-ed that speaks to this issue. He notes that it’s not just insulting to Blacks — which it is and should give remaining super delegates pause — but also to whites. Yes, there are whites who won’t support a black candidate, but there are many more who will.

    I don’t know if Obama will win in November, I happen to think he will. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if he did and that huge numbers of whites that are uncertain would come to see that having a Black President isn’t something we need to fear.

    Unfortunately Hillary has shown herself to be a person without class. It also probably cements the deal that she won’t be offered the VP spot.

    Comment by Bob Cornwall | May 10, 2008

  2. Today, Obama went back to his roots as a community organizer and launched a 50 state voter registration drive with the aim of registering millions of new Dem. voters by Nov. from Alaska to Florida, etc., with heavy concentration in MI, OH, PA and other swing states. Guess who they’ll vote for?

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | May 10, 2008

  3. Hey, Michael,

    I think you hit many of the right points. The most innocent reading would be to say that she is comparing the number of white people to the number of black people in order to say that her voting base is larger, but I think that such an interpretation gets lost in all the other implications of what she said, most of which you stated.

    One essay I read, and now I can’t remember where, raised the question of how do journalists and public figures appropriately address white ethnicity (ethnicities?), white people’s interests, voting patterns, stereotypes, cultural orientations, etc. Comedians do this and generally get by with it as we laugh uncomfortably. A literature analyzing white privilege and whiteness is recently getting some attention in theological circles, even though folks like James Cone were articulating the argument 40 years ago. But so much of the public reaction to raising the issue of white identity is to recoil and assume racism as the motive. There must, it seems to me, also be a therapeutic way of talking about whiteness.


    Comment by Mike Broadway | May 15, 2008

  4. Gee. You said Hillary’s “macaca” moment was that ghastly interview with USA Today (“working Americans, hardworking Americans, white Americans”) and not her loathesome, more recent invocation of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.

    Maybe you’re right; I’ve sure criticized her USA Today interview, with its shades of George Wallace, the racist of ’68.

    However, I’ve felt the real macaca moment (widely publicized, endlessly repeated, because there was no reason for it) was her saying, you know, she should stay in the race because Bobby Kennedy got killed in June.

    That is the most disgusting, self-serving pronouncement I’ve ever heard from an American politician. All those years of being the President’s Wife taught her boatloads about image creation and destruction.

    She knew exactly what she was saying. And now she tries to blame it Obama!

    Have there ever been more predatory bottom-feeders than the Clintons?

    Comment by josh | May 27, 2008

  5. Well, Josh, she hadn’t made the assassination remark when I wrote this post. I am not certain that she knew what she was saying with this remark, but she SHOULD have. And blaming the Obama campaign is bizarre. Further, the remark came after the bizarre Huckabee joke and Ann Coulter’s assassination joke and has spawned nasthy assassination jokes on FOX! So, Clinton has potentially unleashed something very dangerous–and this alone should disqualify her from the presidency. We’ve 8 years of dangerous speech and actions and hardly need any more.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | May 27, 2008

  6. George Allen did apologize to a man named S.R. Sidarth of Indian origin. Sidarth is not even African, but he has dark skin like any other people from India. Dravidians have really dark skin like the author Abraham Vazhayil Thomas.

    Comment by V.E.G. | June 27, 2008

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