- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 26, 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) — Imagine, for just a minute, the pain of America’s first black president.

Not Barack Obama — Bill Clinton.

That’s about the only explanation for Clinton’s lack of brotherly behavior lately: He’s in pain.

He is a figurative black man watching an actual black man soak in all the love that black voters used to save for him.

Suddenly, he looks oh so white.

The former president’s love affair with black America hasn’t soured to the point that he’ll be chased out of his office in Harlem. But black people might revoke Clinton’s honorary brother card if, out of his pain, he keeps hating on Obama. He’s treating the Illinois senator like an unworthy heir to his racial legacy.

At first, Clinton’s slips of the lip about black voting habits and the like could be chalked up to election-year politics. Why wouldn’t an ex-president try to cajole his party’s most loyal voters into supporting his candidate of choice? Especially when that candidate is his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The problem is, nobody bothered to tell Clinton that honorary blackness is also temporary. No matter how much he’s done on the subject of race, his brother privileges are always up for renewal.

Clinton learned this the hard way — by watching black people throw support to Obama en masse while kicking aside Hillary Clinton’s complaints about the man. If anybody knows what Obama is doing to seduce black voters, it is Bill Clinton. After all, Clinton pushed the very same buttons to claim the black vote for himself when he first ran for the presidency 16 years ago.

“I think that they played the race card on me. We now know, from memos from the (Obama) campaign, that they planned it all along,” Clinton groused to the aptly named radio station WHYY on the day before the Pennsylvania primary.

He did not produce the memos or any evidence that they exist, and the Obama campaign denies the accusation.

Still, Clinton accused the Illinois senator of putting an unfair spin on his comparison of Obama’s South Carolina primary victory to Jesse Jackson’s caucus wins there two decades earlier. Black leaders, black voters and most impartial observers in the media saw Clinton’s remarks for what they were — a brazen attempt to marginalize Obama as a “black candidate.”

What gets to Clinton, more than anything, is the fact that even black voters who question the Illinois senator’s “blackness” still shield Obama against a slap from somebody outside the family — in this case, Clinton himself.

In a game of race cards, Obama wins.

“These were words that came out of his mouth,” Obama said of Clinton, “not words that came out of mine.”

Situations like this give blacks a firm impression that the Clintons “are committed to doing everything they possibly can to damage Obama to the point that he could never win,” Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., told The New York Times.

“When he was going through his impeachment problems, it was the black community that bellied up to the bar,” Clyburn said. “I think black folks feel strongly that this is a strange way for President Clinton to show his appreciation.”

Just days before the Pennsylvania primary, Obama dipped into the Clinton racial playbook of old when he blunted Hillary Clinton’s attacks with a simple brush of his hand on his shoulder, mimicking rapper Jay-Z in his music video, “Dirt Off Your Shoulder.” The gesture — clearly deliberate because Obama did it twice then grinned all big — spoke to black voters just like Clinton did in 1992 by playing a saxophone on “The Arsenio Hall Show” from behind a pair of dark sunglasses.

The message then, and now, was, “I’m the one to vote for, black people, because I’m cool like that.”

Clinton remembers a time when he could do no wrong in black people’s eyes. Up until the day he left office seven years ago, most blacks agreed with author Toni Morrison’s observation that Clinton was the nation’s first black president because it would be hard to find anybody who could be blacker than Clinton and occupy the White House at the same time.

Along came Obama — who, ironically, is of mixed race — and immediately, Clinton lost his black street cred.

Even Morrison thought so. She clarified the first-black-president title she’d bestowed on Clinton, and embraced Obama.

While Clinton bellyaches about Obama’s good fortunes with black people, Obama basks in the support of powerful blacks like billionaire Oprah Winfrey, who dared anybody to suggest her choice of candidates was purely a black thing.

“Don’t play me small,” she said.

It’s Clinton who looks small. He continues to whine about the trouble he’s caused himself.

“You got to really go some to play the race card with me,” Clinton spewed on WHYY. “My office is in Harlem. And Harlem voted for Hillary, by the way.”

Off mike, Clinton asked: “I don’t think I have to take any (expletive) from anybody on that. Do you?”

Actually, sir, you do. But black people feel your pain.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sonya Ross, a news editor in the AP’s Washington bureau, was one of the few black White House reporters during the Clinton years.

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