It's fitting that after he left the White House, Bill Clinton moved his office to 125th Street in Harlem--the most famous black district in the country--for African Americans have consistently been the most supportive segment of his constituency. Even during his impeachment and other difficult times, blacks stood with him; on better days, Clinton's approval rating among black Americans was often higher than that of Jesse Jackson. In Bill Clinton and Black America
, USA Today
reporter DeWayne Wickham conducts a series of interviews with African American politicians, pundits, journalists, activists, entertainers, and educators to explore Clinton's "special bond with blacks" as both governor and president. As these interviews make clear, their love and support goes well beyond mere allegiance to the Democratic Party; in many ways the African American community sees Clinton as one of them. Several of those interviewed even refer to him as the "black president" because he was so receptive to their needs and because he worked to include them in the political process more than any other president.
Reasons cited here for Clinton's popularity among blacks include his poor Southern upbringing and underdog status, the fact that he appointed more blacks to his cabinet and other federal posts than any other president, and good timing (he came into office after three consecutive Republican administrations). But perhaps the biggest factor discussed is the genuine ease with which Clinton relates to black Americans. Blacks trust him to consider their perspective and do not view him as just another white politician who appears only during election years. This is not to say that Clinton always did their bidding; he often disappointed them. But they also shared common enemies and a common outlook that brought them together. He may not be their president any longer, but a majority of blacks still see him as a friend--and now, a neighbor. --Shawn Carkonen
From Publishers Weekly
The first black president: "single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone playing, McDonald's-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas" was how Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison described Bill Clinton. And, indeed, Clinton enjoyed his highest rating with blacks even when his popularity was at its lowest. This collection of short pieces and interviews with Clinton, edited by USA Today columnist Wickham (Woodholme: A Black Man's Story of Growing up Alone), gathers a wide variety of black professionals, politicians and intellectuals addressing the myriad issues on which African-Americans engaged with the president. Terry Edmonds (Clinton's director of speech writing) captures the heart of this relationship in his statement, "for Clinton, black America was never an afterthought." Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint was troubled by Clinton's attack on Sister Souljah "for being anti-white," but was still won over by the president's appointments of black judges, cabinet and subcabinet members, and by his attendance at black churches and singing of hymns. The collection is at its best when it mixes personal anecdotes (law professor Mary Frances Berry telling Clinton jokes during a Black History Month dinner) with substantive analysis, as when William H. Gray III of the United Negro College Fund reports on helping Clinton revise his disastrous Haitian refugees policy. While a great deal of the material here states the obvious (actor/producer Tim Reid's statement that "he's given the black people something that no one has given them at this point: hope"), what comes through again and again is the manner in which his black constituency felt well represented by Clinton. (Feb.)Forecast: Clinton's current Harlem base of operations is just one more gesture of solidarity with the African-American community. But with the former president's political role in flux, this book's main audience will be those wanting a walk through the 1990s' White House domestic policy making as well as the African-Americans and many others with cases of Clinton nostalgia.
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