March 19, 2004 -- Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry hit a small bump in what he hopes will be his road to the White House. He recently said on the American Urban Radio Network that, "President Clinton was often known as the first black president. I wouldn't be upset if I could earn the right to be the second." But rather than receiving praise from the people to whom he was pandering, he was criticized, with some black leaders demanding an apology.

Blacks indeed should be upset with such a suck-up but, unfortunately, Kerry was simply playing the perverse game of collective identity politics that is practiced by many black leaders and their white enablers.

So what is all this business about two white guys being treated as black? Bill Clinton first received his African American moniker from black author Toni Morrison who, in a talk about the president's sex scandal, said that "white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black president." She noted that "Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working class, saxophone-playing, McDonald's-and-junk-food-loving." 

One might think that Morrison would go on to say that many poor individuals from broken homes -- black and otherwise -- have pulled themselves up in the world by adopting a morality of personal responsibility and self-control; that they have left behind them the junk food and other poor health habits that raise their mortality rates; and that they have eschewed the promiscuity that causes so many out-of-wedlock births and broken homes. (In such cases they would have good reason to make glad music on the sax!) One might think she would then criticize Clinton for his failings. But if this were her perspective, would she really want to identify Clinton -- a moral slacker -- as black?
Instead Morrison treated Clinton's behavior as a trivial personal matter and suggested that so many blacks identified with him because he was a victim of powers who wanted to lead him "to lynching ... to crucifixion," with the message that "we will put you in your place" unless you assimilate at once.
And it wasn't just Morrison who perpetuated this perspective. The Congressional Black Caucus, for example, honored him at their 2001 Annual Awards Dinner at which Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said that Clinton, "took so many initiatives he made us think for a while we had elected the first black president."
Clinton "took so many initiatives he made us think for a while we had elected the first black president." -Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson
So what we are to gather from many so-called black leaders is this: African Americans are best identified as socially and personally dysfunctional; they should not be blamed for their flaws or their resulting miseries; they are victims of repressive white elites; the role of government is to lard on them special handouts and privileges; whites who exhibit the same behavior and character and who support government paternalism for blacks might be considered to be black. What an insulting view, made more so because not only condescending whites but so-called black leaders as well perpetuate it!
The assumption here is that racial identity is more important than individual identity and that to be "black" is to hold to a certain -- indefensible -- ethical and political dogma. Of course, from this perspective a growing number of African Americans cannot be considered truly "black" like Bill Clinton. George Mason University Professor Walter Williams; Hoover Institute scholars Thomas Sowell and Shelby Steele; talk show host Larry Elder; columnist Deroy Murdock; education activist Ward Connerly; urban reformer Star Parker; Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas; National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and many others are part of a long and growing list of black Americans who think for themselves, who act and want to be judged as individuals, and who reject the need for a government plantation.
Kerry was currying votes through the same, stale racial politics, so why did blacks lash out at him for simply declaring his intent to follow in Clinton's footsteps? Perhaps the reaction was truly cultural. After all, Clinton does come off as a down-to-earth, jazz-loving regular guy from an unpretentious background. Compare that to the patrician Kerry, the stiff, brie-eating, French-speaking millionaire who married even more millions. Perhaps it is because Kerry needs to be more specific in his promises. He can't just declare himself "black." He needs to specify just what kind of goodies will he cough up if he's elected.
In any case, this episode points to the moral and political bankruptcy of those who, as Ayn Rand wrote in her essay "Racism" over four decades ago, "Instead of fighting against racial discrimination ... are demanding that racial discrimination be legalized and enforced... Instead of fighting for equal rights ... are demanding special racial privileges." But she also observed that, "the smallest minority on earth is the individual." Individuals should not identify first with accidents of birth such as their race or social class, nor should they see these circumstances entitling them to other people's money. Rather, their self-esteem should come from what they make of themselves through their own efforts to realize their own dreams, whether in the face of old-fashioned Southern-bigot white racism, which thankfully is disappearing from America, or the more subtle but equally dangerous version that is perpetuated by Clinton, Kerry and much of the black establishment.

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Edward Hudgins

About The Author:

Edward Hudgins is research director at the Heartland Institute and former director of advocacy and senior scholar at The Atlas Society.

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