Wed, 12 March 2014
In the Adegbile Affair, at Least, Obama More Honorable than Bill Clinton
A Black Agenda Radio commentary by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
“Lani Guinier never got a chance to testify on her own behalf before the U.S. Senate.”
This is not your usual Black Agenda Radio commentary. Don’t be shocked, but this week, history requires that we say something good about President Obama – at least, in comparison with his predecessor and political mentor, Bill Clinton. In the case of Debo Adegbile, Obama’s nominee to head up the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, the First Black President has behaved far more honorably than did President Clinton, who nominated Black lawyer Lani Guinier to the same position in 1993.
Guinier, like Adegbile, had once worked for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. She came to national attention by proposing formulas for elections that would avoid allowing majorities to completely shut out minority voters, through a system that would more resemble proportional representation than the U.S. game of winner-take-all. Predictably, the Guinier nomination ran into fierce opposition, just as Adegbile’s, 19 years later. But, Lani Guinier never got a chance to testify on her own behalf before the U.S. Senate. President Clinton withdrew her nomination as soon as the going got rough. Then, adding insult to injury, Clinton claimed that he wasn’t backing off Guinier from fear of losing, but because he had finally gotten around to reading what she had written about voting, and didn’t like it. In other words, Clinton punked out, left his nominee twisting in the wind, and then blamed her for it – a thoroughly dishonorable political performance.
“Obama’s behavior was morally superior to his mentor.”
President Obama, on the other hand, stuck with Debo Adegbile all the way through the process. Ultimately, seven Democrats joined Republicans in rejecting the nominee, on the outrageous grounds that the NAACP Legal Defense Fund had been part of Mumia Abu Jamal’s death penalty defense appeal. Obama issued a scathing condemnation of the lawmakers. He called the campaign against Adegbile, who is now a senior counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee, a “travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant.” Obama excoriated those who claim that association with Mumia Abu Jamal’s legal defense is some kind of crime. The fact that the nominee “was defeated solely based on his legal representation of a defendant runs contrary to a fundamental principle of our system of justice,” said Obama.
In most political matters, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton are identical twins, both servants of corporate interests. But, in this case, under very similar circumstances, Obama’s behavior was morally superior to his mentor, Bill Clinton. Maybe that’s not saying much, but it should be said.
Back in 1993, Kweisi Mfume, then chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, warned Clinton that his shoddy treatment of Lani Guinier might lose him Black voter support. But, that didn’t happen. Six weeks before the mid-term congressional elections of 1994, Newt Gingrich unveiled his Contract with America, and went on to win control of the House of Representatives. Lots of Black folks thought Bill Clinton was the only thing holding back the Confederate barbarians at the gate. Four years later, Toni Morrison was calling Clinton the “first Black president.” Obama could have gotten away with dumping his nominee for the Civil Rights Division, too. But he didn’t, and that’s to his credit – comparatively speaking.
For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to BlackAgendaReport.com.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.