Russert Sees Bill Clinton as 'Racially Divisive,' As In 1992 Rapper Flap

At about 9:10 Eastern time on Saturday night on MSNBC, NBC's Tim Russert was discussing the Democratic race and the Nevada caucuses, and suggested that Bill Clinton could be seen as racially divisive, trying to drive apart blacks and whites, as signified by his 1992 campaign speech denouncing rapper Sister Souljah. It was famous enough that they started calling it a "Sister Souljah moment" when you spoke out against your own base.

It's tough to come to Bill Clinton's defense, but a little context was missing. If Clinton was seen as divisive by the Jesse Jacksons of the world (let's grant that), what on Earth was Sister Souljah? What was said? She said this in The Washington Post: "If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?" Clinton picked up on that and shot back days later: "If you took the words ‘white’ and ‘black’ and you reversed them, you might think David Duke was giving that speech."

In everything that has followed, political writers have been more offensive than Clinton. For example, in 2000, when John McCain attacked Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as "agents of intolerance," he was hailed for a Sister Souljah moment. Was it fair to smear these ministers into being just as offensive as the "Let's have a week to kill whites" rapper?

Most other moments where candidates muster the courage (or foolishness or both) to denounce their own base of support are not very comparable to what Sister Souljah said in its oddball intensity. The Sister Souljah references should be either junked as too antique for today's voters or they ought to be re-explained so that people can gain some context in these remarks.

Tim Graham's picture