Last month, in New York, I had dinner with one of the nation's top black journalists. We began to talk about President Clinton's problems and he said that they stemmed from his being too close to blacks. A few weeks later, I attended a reception that some members of Hawaii's black community had arranged for me, and I heard the same from them: that some whites are after Clinton because he is viewed as a (n-word) lover.
An African-American comedian has observed that because Clinton receives a check from the government, cheats on his wife and plays the saxophone, he's a stereotypical black man. As scurrilous as this may sound, there is an element of truth in this statement. Indeed, Clinton may be the blackest president since Warren G. Harding, who, when confronted with rumors about his black ancestry, was supposed to have said, "Somebody may have jumped across the fence back there."
Though nobody may have jumped across the fence in Clinton's background, as far as we know, my friends say that Clinton's style is certainly black. Miles Davis' biographer, Quincy Troupe, asked me to notice Clinton's manner of walking during which he bounces and bobs his head as evidence of his blackness. One of Clinton's detractors, who seem to be ubiquitous on television these days, criticized Clinton's late mother's morality. I interpreted this to mean that Clinton's hip mother used to take him to jazz clubs.
Ronald Reagan seemed to go to out of his way to avoid having his photograph taken with blacks. And George Bush only seemed comfortable with Clarence Thomas. But just last week, Clinton seemed genuinely pleased as he was photographed giving one of his saxophones to a black eighth-grader at a White House event.
Meanwhile, if it is as Clinton adviser James Carville says, that some of those who desire to rid the presidency of Clinton are white supremacists, then they must be annoyed by the appointment of blacks to Cabinet posts.
Every time you look around, Clinton is naming a black person to an important post. Last year, Eric Holder was sworn in as deputy attorney general, making him the highest ranking black law enforcement official in the nation's history. Recently, Clinton named Dr. David Satcher to be surgeon general, and he chose William E. Kennard last year to be chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. On Tuesday, Franklin D. Raines, the man who helped Clinton close the 1997 balanced budget deal, resigned as White House budget director to become chairman and chief executive officer of the Federal National Mortgage Association.
For white supremacists, the Clinton administration must remind them of one of those maligned Reconstruction governments of the sort shown in D. W. Griffith's masterpiece of racist propaganda, "Birth of a Nation."
I have been critical of the president and mentioned, on a radio panel shortly after the 1992 election, that Clinton's cynical behavior in criticizing Sister Souljah in an appearance before the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson's Operation PUSH was indicative of a character problem. My fellow panelists, devoted Clintonites who included Paul Robeson Jr. and writer Playthell Benjamin, told me that my observation showed no political acumen and that I should stick to writing fiction.
Clinton has been very good for the African-American middle class, but his welfare reform program has put poor blacks in peril. Things are becoming so bad in my town (Oakland, Calif.) that during a recent public meeting we were warned that hungry people might soon break into our homes to raid our refrigerators.
But given his accusers, I can understand why the strongest support to the president is coming from African-Americans. One of Rupert Murdoch's right-wing TV hosts grilled Andrew Young about African-American support for Clinton and compared it to black support for O. J. Simpson. (One newspaper even referred to Clinton as the "O. J. President.")
Clinton often seems to have a symbolic relationship with black people. When "60 Minutes" aired Kathleen Willey's account of an alleged Oval Office encounter with Clinton, the hour was shared with the type of feature that "60 Minutes" has found improves its ratings: black people messing up. This time "60 Minutes" used three Fresno State basketball players to promote the stereotype: black athletes as criminals.
Clinton's relationship with blacks doesn't end there. The sex sting was first tried out on Washington Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr. Commenting about the government's use of women to entrap a public official, William Safire said, "Never before has the government stooped so low."