Harvard trained MSNBC national correspondent and former South Florida Times columnist Joy-Ann Reid, has scrupulously compiled an analysis of America’s political schizophrenia — creator of the so-called racial divide and simultaneous quasi-social progress – focusing from the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to the Obama presidency.
There are the legacy players in Reid’s truthful drama. What became a storied friendship between President Lyndon B. Johnson and Martin Luther King Jr. working together on civil rights later soured when King opposed Johnson on the war in Vietnam. Southern Democrats sided with conservative Barry Goldwater who became the Republican nominee for president in 1964. Some of those “Dixiecrats” flipped to the Republican Party, which would have dire consequences for the Democratic Party down the road.
Other legacy players include Shirley Chisholm, Jesse Jackson, John Lewis and Al Sharpton. However, Joy-Ann Reid’s book FRACTURE centers on President Barack H. Obama, former President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary R. Clinton, the 2016 Democratic candidate for President. The book’s notes call them “three of the most important figures in modern political history.”
In the introduction to her book, Reid exclaims that if the Republican Party represents an America that wants to go backward and repeat the distant past, she sees a Democratic Party that “represents the possibilities and challenges of a multiracial future.” She ends by stating “I wrote this book because if the Democratic Party can’t get it right – and they haven’t yet – it’s hard to see how the country can.”
The Vietnam War took so many young black men to cemeteries, wheelchairs and psychiatric hospitals. Reid reports that “Black enlistees accounted for one in five combat deaths between 1961 and 1966 – a quarter of the dead in 1965 – despite making up less than 10 percent of the U.S. Army ranks and 13 percent of the American population.” Such was done under the Democratic presidencies of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.
In FRACTURE we get the whole skinny on President Clinton’s acquiescence to conservatives in pulling back the nomination of his and Hillary’s Yale Law School classmate Lani Guinier for assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Guinier “was the biracial daughter of the first chairman of Harvard’s Afro-American Studies Department.”
But it was Clinton’s Omnibus Crime Bill Reid reports “which pledged to put a hundred thousand police officers on the streets and created a federal ‘three strikes’ provision that opened the door to lengthy prison terms for repeat offenders” that bothered civil rights leaders. Slick Willie, as we used to call Clinton, ushered in the move of big money to build more prisons not development programs for inner city populations.
Clinton’s sweeping welfare reform plan pleased conservatives who were bringing their welfare reform bill before the House. Slick Willie (Clinton) “had co-opted the grace notes of the Republican message. And he never looked back.” Black leaders had been out flanked, again – asleep at the wheel! “The mayors asked what would happen once scores of their citizens were kicked off public assistance,” Reid writes, “with no jobs and no skills.” The final bill did include job training.
Every page of Joy-Ann Reid’s FRACTURE is alive with historical heft and context. For example, without editorializing, she gives you Hillary Clinton’s political pedigree early on, so that there is no confusion about who she really is. Hillary Rodham was a young conservative “who, as the drama over the civil rights bill played out in Washington in the summer of 1964, canvassed her neighborhood in the Chicago suburbs for the Goldwater campaign.” There’s more about her conservative roots in the book.
There is so much about President Obama that Reid unearthed; therefore a clear picture emerges about how he thinks and the key people with which he surrounds himself. Reid writes, “Obama had, by virtue of luck, or rhetorical skill, or simply his upbringing in three worlds – the peculiarly mid-western, pragmatic idealism of his mother’s family, the exotic multiculturalism of Hawaii and Indonesia, and the brown skin the he inherited from his Kenyan father and that he lived in every day – been able to traverse that paradox with no trace of malice or affect.”
Al Calloway is a longtime journalist who began his career with the Atlanta Inquirer during the early 1960s civil rights struggle. He may be reached at Al_Calloway@verizon.net