Bill Clinton's Notsaposta Say That, Is He?

CLARENCE PAGE

June 21, 1992|By CLARENCE PAGE

Tsk, tsk. There goes Bill Clinton, breaking the rules of''notsaposta'' again.

''Notsapostas'' are the political taboos too many Democrats live by, according to Rep. Barney Frank, a liberal Massachusetts Democrat.

In his book, ''Speaking Frankly: What's Wrong With the Democrats and How To Fix It,'' Mr. Frank defines a ''notsaposta'' as a truth so troubling that members of a political party cannot acknowledge it without suffering a backlash from fellow party members for giving aid and comfort to their enemies.

For example, liberal officeholders are ''notsaposta'' denounce the viciousness of violent criminals because, heaven forbid, someone else might use the statement to argue for the death penalty.

Or they're ''notsaposta'' point out that the United States government is ever in any way morally superior to any other government because, heaven forbid, the statement might be used by some warhawk to argue for more military spending.

The problem with notsapostas, Mr. Frank says, is that they automatically surrender high moral ground and, as the Democrats have found to their dismay in five of the last six elections, public respect.

Mr. Frank is right, and it doesn't stop there. Judging by Bill Clinton's adventure at a Rainbow Coalition conference in Washington last weekend, Mr. Frank might add a new notsaposta to his list: You're notsaposta criticize a young, black, female rap star, even when she spouts inflammatory nonsense.

Mr. Clinton broke that rule, with a stony-faced and steaming Jesse Jackson sitting nearby, by criticizing the organization Mr. Jackson founded for giving a forum to the controversial rap singer Sister Souljah, who had appeared on an earlier panel.

''Her comments before and after [the] Los Angeles [riots] were filled with a kind of hatred that you do not honor today and tonight,'' Mr. Clinton said.

He went on to quote from an interview Sister Souljah gave the Washington Post after the riots: ''If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people? . . . So if you're a gang member and you would normally be killing somebody, why not kill a white person?''

Racist? Inflammatory? No question in Mr. Clinton's mind. ''If you took the words 'white' and 'black' and reversed them, you might think David Duke was giving that speech,'' he said.

Mr. Jackson, who had referred to Souljah with pride minutes earlier, blasted Governor Clinton for showing ''very bad judgment.''

4 In other words, Bill, you're notsaposta do that.

But what, I wonder, about Mr. Jackson's judgment? Sister Souljah claims she was misquoted. Mr. Jackson accepted that, even though Post reporter David Mills tape-recorded his interview with her. Besides, Souljah's hit rap recordings reveal a history of her shooting from the lip.

Her raps, most of which are reasonably intelligent, remind me of the similarly fiery poetry of Nikki Giovanni, when she won national fame in the '60s with lines like, ''Nigger, can you kill? . . . Can a nigger kill a honky?''

Like others of our generation, Ms. Giovanni grew up and mellowed. I'm sure Souljah, reported to be in her 20s, will, too. But probably not before she's made a few more stabs at glamorizing interracial violence.

''Two wrongs don't make a right,'' Souljah shouts at the climax of one of her raps. ''But they sure do make things even!''

Well, call me an old softie, but I still prefer Mahatma Gandhi's reasoning: ''An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.''

Today's young folks could learn a lot from Gandhi's wisdom. It energized Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela, among others. It didn't sell hit records, but it got things done.

Nevertheless, say Sister Souljah's defenders, I'm notsaposta say any of this and neither is Bill Clinton. Ron Walters, chairman of Howard University's political science department and an important Jackson adviser, said as much in a Washington Post opinion-page essay:

''I would be the first to condemn anyone who said and meant that 'Blacks should kill whites,' but I believe that to have been beside the point of Bill Clinton's attack. . . . [By] attacking Sister Souljah, Bill Clinton's strategists intended to accomplish the objective of having him appear strong and independent by standing up to the 'special interest' of the party, putting blacks 'in their place,' and in the process, appealing to the white middle class.''

In other words, Sister Souljah doesn't really mean what she sounds like she is saying, so Mr. Clinton would be better off just pandering to her fans so he can get their votes instead of scolding them.

Maybe that would be the politically correct thing to do but, unfortunately, Mr. Walters' statement presumes that only middle-class whites have reason to be outraged by Sister Souljah's excesses. Further, he implies that otherwise intelligent blacks will run away from Mr. Clinton because he criticized the words of a young rap star.

It is as if we African-Americans are notsaposta feel offense. Or, if we do, we're notsaposta say so.

We are notsaposta hang our dirty laundry in public, we are told, because it might weaken the movement's ability to resist attacks by political enemies. But what actually happens is almost always the opposite. We end up making the enemy look better.

Bill Clinton has courageously admonished whites in the blue-collar North and the deep South to reach out to blacks. Now he's gambling that we African-Americans, after centuries of abuse, will embrace graciously a similar appeal for harmony with whites.

I know I'm notsaposta think he's right. But I hope he is.

Clarence Page is a syndicated columnist.

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