Supplemental: Thinking about what occurred in the past!

TUESDAY, MAY 5, 2015

That notorious Souljah moment:
Joan Walsh has a piece in Salon today about the need to develop “a post-[Bill] Clinton Democratic domestic agenda,” “even if the Democratic frontrunner is named Clinton.”

Almost always, time marches on—but sometimes, so does memory. We were struck by one part of this passage from Walsh’s essay, which strikes us as generally sensible:
WALSH (5/5/15): My goal is not to bash either Clinton, as we look at what did and didn’t work in the 1990s Democratic domestic agenda. (I also think it’s unfair to automatically credit or blame Hillary Clinton for the policies of her husband.) Bill Clinton was a gifted politician who cared about civil rights and poverty. He saw the way Republicans had used both issues against Democrats since the 1960s and he tried to fight it, even if he had to wade into the swamp of white backlash politics to fashion a new Democratic approach to crime, poverty and race.

His notorious “Sister Souljah” moment during the 1992 campaign; his crime and welfare reform policies; his railing against “big government;” all were tailored to reassure white people that Democrats had heard their concerns about the excesses of the war on poverty, and would incorporate the politics of personal responsibility into future efforts to promote equality. But his goal wasn’t perpetuating poverty, inequality and racism; it was forging a winning political coalition to take up a new fight against them, informed by the lessons of the 1960s and ’70s. You can disagree with his tactics, but it’s indisputable that was his intent.
We think Walsh’s approach is totally sensible here. We’re inclined to agree with her assessment of Clinton’s motives at that distant point in time.

That said, we were struck by Walsh’s reference to that “notorious Sister Souljah moment.” Is it true? Did Clinton engage in “a notorious Sister Souljah moment during the 1992 campaign?”

In an otherwise sensible piece, we thought this remark stood out.

The new Salon devotes a lot of time to the task of confusing young readers about the politics of the Clinton and pre-Clinton years. We thought Walsh’s reference to that “notorious moment” should perhaps be addressed.

A bit of backstory:

As of 1992, it was becoming hard to believe that the Democrats would ever win the White House. A great deal of culture-war politics seemed to be arrayed against them. This seemed especially true after Michael Dukakis, a good decent intelligent person, got dismantled in the 1988 campaign.

What did Governor Dukakis have against the pledge of allegiance? Bush the elder rode such questions to an easy, dispiriting win, with the press corps screeching about Dukakis’ failure to punch Bernie Shaw for asking an ill-considered question at the start of one debate.

Crime rates were much higher during that era. For that reason, crime drove a constellation of those culture war issues. And then, along came Sister Souljah, who was quoted in the Washington Post in May 1992.

She had been asked about black-on-white violence during the Los Angeles riots/rebellions. Some of that violence had been ugly, dramatic and videotaped. This comes from the transcript of the interview which was excerpted in the Post:
QUESTION: Even the people themselves who were perpetrating that violence, did they think that was wise? Was that a wise reasoned action?

SOULJAH: Yeah, it was wise. I mean, if black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people? You understand what I’m saying? White people, this government and that mayor were well aware of the fact that black people were dying every day in Los Angeles under gang violence. So if you're a gang member and you would normally be killing somebody, why not kill a white person?
To see the profile which appeared in the Post, just click here.

A few weeks later, Candidate Clinton was scheduled to speak at a conference organized by Jesse Jackson, who has done good things in the world. Souljah was also scheduled at the conference. When he appeared, Clinton repudiated her words.

As we’ve often noted here, the city of Baltimore is full of superb young people who are both black and white. (The demographics go on from there.) That’s also true of the United States as a whole.

In the past week, we’ve seen a lot of superb young people discussing the recent events in Baltimore. How many of these impressive young people have you seen saying anything like what Sister Souljah said at that distant point in time?

We don’t mean this as a criticism of Souljah, who was young at the time. But no Democratic politician with two brain cells to rub together could have appeared at a conference with Souljah at that time without rejecting such remarks.

We’ve seen a lot of superb young people in Baltimore in the past two weeks. Very few people have said anything like what Souljah said way back then.

The Gray family hasn’t said anything like that. Their very capable attorney, Billy Murphy, hasn’t said anything like that.

Those remarks were made a long time ago. Most people no longer recall what was said. As we pimp the histrionics of our fiery progressive outlooks, we may sometimes remember this as a bit of “notorious” conduct on Bill Clinton’s part.

Are you sure we should recall it that way? Have you seen any of our inspiring young people making such comments, or anything like them, in this past few weeks?

We saw some impressive young people with Melissa Harris-Perry on Sunday. If MSNBC could get its transcripts posted, we could have shown you their words!


  1. Walsh did provide context in her column:

    But Clinton also found in the Los Angeles chaos the perfect way to show white voters he wouldn’t tolerate African Americans using white racism as the primary excuse for poverty and crime. His famous “Sister Souljah” moment came after the rapper defended the Los Angeles violence in 1992. “If Black people kill Black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?” she told Washington Post writer David Mills.

    Few people remember that the interviewer was Mills, an African-American reporter who went on to write for “Homicide” and David Simon’s “The Wire” – the great shows about Baltimore poverty and violence that shaped so many people’s reactions to the city’s unrest over the last week. And almost nobody remembers that Mills, who tragically died of an aneurism in 2010, was himself critical of Soujah’s remarks, writing that her empathy for the rioters had reached a “chilling extreme.”

    It was Clinton who got notoriety for his much more pointed attack on Souljah – and that’s what he wanted. “If you took the words ‘white’ and ‘black’ and you reversed them,” he said about her comments to Mills, “you might think David Duke was giving that speech.” Souljah’s remarks, he told the Rainbow Coalition, “are filled with a kind of hatred you do not honor.”

  2. It's unlikely that vintage of Bill Clinton would have invoked the name of violent clerk-shover and cop-attacker Michael Brown when addressing race, as his wife and other race pimps are now known to do.

    1. Better hurry on down to the dry cleaners to pick up your sheets for the meeting tonight.

    2. U mad bro? Ad hominem R-bombs from a left wing rubes have had no effect on anything or anyone for some time now.

    3. Your point 834?

  3. Walsh: [Bill Clinton's] crime and welfare reform policies; his railing against “big government;” all were tailored to reassure white people that Democrats had heard their concerns about the excesses of the war on poverty, and would incorporate the politics of personal responsibility into future efforts to promote equality. But his goal wasn’t perpetuating poverty, inequality and racism...

    In Walsh's world, Democratic policies are designed to end poverty, inequality and racism so Republican policies are designed to perpetuate these problems. She doesn't acknowledge that Republicans have the same goals as Democrats, but believe that different policies are better ways to achieve these goals. Too bad Walsh doesn't look at actual results. The examples of Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, etc. ought to cause her to question whether Democratic policies really are the best way to eradicate poverty, inequality and racism.

    1. " ... Democratic policies are the best way to eradicate poverty, inequality and racism." replaced by your favored solutions of continuation of massive wealth transfers to the wealthy, the eradication of the minimum wage, ACA and any meaningful safety net for the poor, increasing unemployment in the inner cities by shipping jobs offshore, and militarization of the domestic police.

      Oh yeah, and Dubya really wasn't an idiot because he got better grades than Al Gore.

      I can't believe you troll like this for free.

    2. Anon -- not just better grades. After graduation, Gore failed to get a Masters Degree in Journalism from Vanderbilt and also failed to get a Masters in Theology from Vanderbilt. Bush OTOH succeeded in getting (arguably) the most prestegeous MBA degree in the country, from Harvard.

    3. Too bad he didn't learn anything in the process.

    4. He learned how to lose everyone else's money and walk away a personal winner. I'd say it taught him how to be President.

    5. David, we have no idea what a Gore presidency would have been like because we didn't have one.

      We did have a Bush presidency for eight years, and the record is quite clear how that turned out.

    6. I wish we could reopen debate on what a Dukakis presidency might have produced.

    7. It is not that Republicans intend to perpetuate poverty, inequality and racism. They simply believe that government has no role in addressing them, unless it interferes with their pursuit of wealth and power. Which is why their "solutions" (like prisons) do not attempt to solve the problems.

  4. Are left wing rubes less effective than right wing racists? OK. You seem sure in your understanding.
    I love me some bigots.

    1. What has Democratic rule produced? Chicago is the murder capitol. Detroit can't afford street lights. Riots in Ferguson and St. Louis and Baltimore. But, none of this matters. One mention of the "R" word wipes out all these problems.

    2. You have no idea how much worse the problems of those cities might have been without Democrats in office. Look at all the problems the US had with Republican Bush in office. Look at the ineffective way he dealt with Katrina, the financial meltdown, 9/11, etc. I wouldn't blame him for causing those problems but apparently you have no similar restraint when it comes to blaming Democrats for violence that goes back to Al Capone in Chicago or racial trouble that predates the civil war.

    3. This is a trick question. Left wing rubes ARE racists, and it's difficult to find a right wing racist in this day and age. Left wing rubes cause havoc and perpetual dependency for blacks in order to flatter themselves as SJW's and gain votes.

    4. Obviously, any string of words with a question mark is a trick question to you.

    5. " it's difficult to find a right wing racist in this day and age."
      Surely you jest.

  5. Thanks to both Bob and his new fan base for setting the younger readers free from all that confusion spread by Sister Walsh and her squad of screamers at Salon.


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  7. Warning to Casual Readers of this Blog: Posts on this blog are unmoderated. They are infested with occasional meaningless efforts in which the blogger reacts to an adjective used by a journalist the blogger intensely dislikes causing him to feel the youth of our nation, whom he despises from the time they enter college until the time they pass thirty five, are being misled about a part of history that they could care less about. The posts are an effort to set the record straight, Usually they reflect an interpretation of the meaning of the adjective which might differ from yours, are generally harmless, and generate fewer comments which are more widely off topic than usual. And also unmoderated. Troll infested too.

  8. As for "the youth of our nation, whom he despises," I know that Somerby has praised young people over and over and over for years. Could you clarify?

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