Sister Souljah – The Zombie Lie

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Yesterday Riverdaughter did an excellent job with the main point of Friday’s column by Glenn Greenwald but I want to address one small part of his post:

In 1996, Clinton signed into law the single most pernicious piece of anti-gay federal legislation ever passed — the Defense of Marriage Act — with overwhelming Democratic support in the Congress.  Scorning the “Far Left,” especially on social issues, was a Clinton favorite.  He is the inventor, after all, of the Sister Souljah technique.  Bill Clinton was the ultimate non-ideological pragmatist.  He was driven by the overriding desire to win over his opponents. (emphasis added)

Even if you had never heard of Sister Souljah before you would infer from that paragraph that she has something to do with “scorning the ‘Far Left.'”  In fact, “Sister Souljah” is shorthand for a zombie lie that ahistorical types use to bash Bill Clinton for supposedly exploiting racism in his 1992 campaign.  While some who use the reference are merely ignorant of the facts, others are willfully dishonest.  From Dick Morris:

“I think what she’s going to do is take a page from Bill’s playbook in 1992 when he was facing Jesse Jackson going into the New York primary. From out of nowhere, he seized on an episode with Sistah Souljah, who is a black rapper who apparently had dissed the National Anthem. And he attacked her, and the whole point was to use race as an issue against Jesse Jackson — which succeeded and he carried New York by a very large margin.”

First of all, Jesse Jackson didn’t run for President in 1992, so the Big Dawg didn’t face him in the New York primary.  Nor did he “attack” Sister Souljah for having “dissed” the National Anthem.  What Bill Clinton criticized were these two statements by Sister Souljah:

“If Black people kill Black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?”

“If there are any good white people, I haven’t met them”

In June 1992 (after the primaries) both Clinton and Sister Souljah were invited to speak at a conference of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition, and during his speech Clinton said:

“If you took the words ‘white’ and ‘black,’ and you reversed them, you might think David Duke was giving that speech.”

If it had been anyone but Bill (or Hillary) those words would probably have been taken at face value.  But by 1992 the “Clinton Rules” were already in effect:

“Clinton rules” — the term a number of observers use for the way pundits and some news organizations treat any action or statement by the Clintons, no matter how innocuous, as proof of evil intent.

Under the Clinton Rules, Bill wasn’t just condemning a couple of racist statements, he was intentionally and cynically exploiting racial fears in order to distance himself from Jackson and the African American community.  In the mind of Gwen Ifill, he was only condemning “reverse racism” (not racism) but in the mind of one self-appointed expert at finding racism he was putting black people “in their place.”

The key to understanding the zombie lie aspect of the term “Sister Souljah moment” is that it implies duplicity and calculation.  The politician involved isn’t taking a principled stand, he or she is pandering to moderates by repudiating his or her own supporters.  In the bizarro world of Scamelot, repudiating your base is a brilliant strategy.

But only if Obama does it.

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