Presidents and hate-mongers – now and then

A number of Americans expressed disappointment at seeing the former president sharing the dais with Louis Farrakhan at Aretha Franklin’s funeral on August 31.

Bill CLINTON – creating a hostile environment for women. (Reuters) (photo credit: REUTERS)
Bill CLINTON – creating a hostile environment for women. (Reuters)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As president, Bill Clinton distanced himself from a hate-monger – now he shares the dais with him.
A number of Americans expressed disappointment at seeing the former president sharing the dais with Louis Farrakhan at Aretha Franklin’s funeral on August 31. It is more unsettling if one recalls that Clinton purposely removed himself from the Million Man March on the Mall in Washington on October 16, 1995, which was organized by Farrakhan and culminated in what some dubbed his own two-hour coronation speech. Instead, at that time, the president chose to address a crowd of 10,000 at the University of Texas, pointedly distancing himself from “one man’s message of malice and division.”
Although the crowd on the Mall chanted, “We want Farrakhan!” and the mayor of Washington announced, “The vision for the Million Man March came from God Himself,” Clinton warned, “One million men do not make right one man’s message of malice and division.”
Yet, up for reelection the next year, the president would not mention the name of that messenger. It fell to Republican Senate majority leader Bob Dole, who stated explicitly that “Farrakhan is a racist and antisemite, unhinged by hate,” and expressed “shock” that Clinton lacked “the moral courage to denounce [him] by name.”
Almost a quarter-century later, Clinton no longer finds it necessary even to distance himself from Farrakhan and instead shared a dais with him.
Much like today, the country then was deeply divided. But then, the leading Democrat not only bemoaned the breach, but openly reproached both sides. Clinton delivered his Austin address barely two weeks after O.J. Simpson’s acquittal for a double homicide underscored America’s stark racial divide. Clinton stressed, “White America must understand and acknowledge the roots of black pain.” But he also insisted, “Blacks must understand and acknowledge the roots of white fear.” Indeed, the Democrat faulted both “white and black, on the Left and the Right... who seek to sow division for their own purposes.”
It was unlike Charlottesville in 2017, when Democrats uniformly condemned a Republican president for seeing “very fine people on both sides,” including those who recognized General Lee and sought to protect the defender of an Old South based on white supremacy. In 1995, it was the Democratic president who praised the good people on both sides, including those who opposed the leading American antisemite of the time and those who came to hear and honor the man who, in effect, “normalized hate.”
Indeed, for many black supporters, Farrakhan’s antisemitism – the source of his renown – was eclipsed by what one black policeman considered his “very uplifting” message. And the president appreciated that Farrakhan had called for his minions to gather for a “day of atonement” in which black men would repent for their failure to accept responsibility for the children they fathered. Clinton recognized that the father-absent family “may be the biggest social problem in our society,” and argued that the disproportionate number of such households in black communities “aggravates the conditions of the racial divide.”
BY 2018, when the number of father-absent households had mushroomed even further, the pastor who delivered the eulogy for the “queen of soul” characterized the black man’s abandonment of his children as “abortion after birth,” and warned that a single mother could not raise her son to be a man. But unlike Clinton in 1995, the singer’s nephew simply dismissed the self-criticism as unwarranted – “offensive and distasteful” – and the former president said nothing.
Had Farrakhan been given a microphone he might have endorsed the pastor’s lament. But even without speaking, his presence on the dais at Franklin’s funeral made his longstanding antisemitic message loud and clear. In 2010, when Farrakhan delivered “an historic message” in Atlanta, he focused on the Jews as leeches, sucking the blood of black singers and athletes. He railed that the insidiously clever Jews remain the blacks’ masters: “See, we have the talent and the Jews... attach themselves to our talent.... That’s why our black artists... died poor, because somebody else got their money.”
Farrakhan contended that currently, Jews were replacing their “old strategy... ‘Let them die broke,’... [with] a new strategy, ‘Let’s make our Negroes rich.’” Still, he continued, no black entertainer could escape the Jews’ hold: “I’m here to tell you, no black man or woman becomes a multimillionaire without friendship in the Jewish community.” (No matter that Aretha Franklin died with an $80-million fortune.)
Farrakhan also portrayed black athletes as being in the thrall of Jewish masters. When he and Isiah Thomas, the Detroit Pistons legend, embraced at the funeral in a demonstrative bear hug, one was reminded that Farrakhan depicted the National Basketball Association as a Jewish plantation, informing the players, “You’re just a piece of meat, throw balls in hoops, they’ve got dogs that can do that.... You’re a rich slave, and you’re sharecropping again!”
Apparently, the perfidious Jews believed that a black president worked on their plantation as well. Farrakhan explained that Barack Obama was “nurtured by Jews” who planned to anoint him “the first Jewish president.”
“The Jews were telling you, ‘We own the brother.’” Their goal? To “use him to trick black people away from the promise of God,” which would have released them from their bondage at last. To be sure, he said, Obama “was not a willing participant in madness, but Satan [the Jews] understood the time.... They selected him and what could we do?”
Farrakhan ended with a prophecy, promising, “God is going to put an exclamation point behind this lecture: A calamity of great magnitude is going to strike America!” To some, he was predicting the election of Trump.
When Clinton encountered Farrakhan on the dais, he should have remembered what he did in 1995 and walked off the stage.
The writer is the author of Racializing Antisemitism: Black Militants, Jews, and Israel, 1950 to the Present (Academic Studies Press).