Gene Lyons: A winning theme for Clinton: America’s still great

SHARE Gene Lyons: A winning theme for Clinton: America’s still great
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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton addresses supporters at her Super Tuesday election night rally in Miami on Tuesday. Photo by Gerald Herbert, AP.

Sometimes, you take your laughs where you find them. For me, the funniest moment in an otherwise dreary and intermittently scary election year came when candidate Trump visited the old state fairgrounds in Little Rock. A character seemingly straight out of a Charles Portis novel provided the most incisive commentary.

The author of “True Grit” is the state’s best novelist, a master of deadpan comedy in a tone-perfect Arkansas twang.

According to the newspaper, a Trump supporter carrying a “Make America Great Again” sign encountered a young man on his way into the arena to bask in the Great Braggart’s eerie orange glow.

“America’s already great, you dumb-butt!” the kid said.

OPINION

He could have been Portis’ Norwood Pratt, the would-be country singer traveling the country with Joann the Wonder Hen, the College Educated Chicken. An ex-Marine, Norwood wasn’t one to mince words.

So there was Hillary Clinton on the night of her thunderous win over Sen. Bernie Sanders in the South Carolina primary.

“We don’t need to make America great again,” she said. “America never stopped being great. But we do need to make America whole again. Instead of building walls, we need to be tearing down barriers. We need to show by everything we are in this together.”

Ain’t that the truth? Maybe not in Trump World, where voters who never tire of proclaiming their holiness are voting for an aging playboy who brags about the married women he’s seduced. (In his book “The Art of the Deal.”) But he’s going to put them back in their place, isn’t he?

Yeah, well, good luck with that.

Anyway, I suspect Hillary has found a winning theme.

Meanwhile, pundits seem oddly reluctant to say so, but Bernie’s candidacy imploded due to a classic political blunder when he accused his opponent of pandering to African-American voters by supporting President Obama.

“Hillary Clinton now is trying to embrace the president as closely as she possibly can. Everything the president does is wonderful. She loves the president, he loves her and all that stuff,” Sanders said sarcastically. “And we know what that’s about. That’s trying to win support from the African-American community, where the president is enormously popular.”

Never mind that she was Obama’s secretary of state. Bernie delivered these remarks in an interview with BET’s Marc Lamont Hill on Feb. 18. His poll numbers have plummeted like a stone ever since.

In early February, Gallup reported that Sanders’ net favorability rating stood at 57 percent to Clinton’s 44 percent. By the March 1 Super Tuesday primaries, those numbers were reversed.

Bernie dropped 13 points as Clinton rose.

I wouldn’t presume to speak for black voters, but they tend to be very acute about being patronized. Indeed, 81 percent of Democrats generally have a favorable opinion of President Obama, along with a reported 97 percent of black voters in South Carolina.

Sanders’ remarks weren’t merely insulting, but tone-deaf and objectively dumb. As South Carolina’s Rep. Jim Clyburn put it, “I don’t know how you can look at Mrs. Clinton’s history — she was not running for president in the 1970s when she came to South Carolina to work with those African-American juvenile detainees or juvenile inmates trying to better their conditions, when she went to work with Marian Wright Edelman, a native of Bennettsville, South Carolina, to come down here working with her trying to better the lives of children … So, what was she doing? Who was she pandering to back then?”

Not Barack Obama, Clyburn noted, who was in junior high school.

But then the Sanders campaign’s idea of a South Carolina surrogate was Princeton professor and controversialist Cornel West, author of this immortal trope from 2011:

“I think my dear brother Barack Obama has a certain fear of free black men. It’s understandable,” West said. “As a young brother who grows up in a white context, brilliant African father, he’s always had to fear being a white man with black skin. All he has known culturally is white … When he meets an independent black brother,it is frightening.”

Nothing scarier than a Princeton revolutionary.

West recently suggested that civil rights icons Clyburn and Rep. John Lewis had sold out to Wall Street.

“Tell you what, my brother,” President Obama might have responded if he were a character in a Portis novel, “don’t pee on my shoes and tell me it’s raining.”

As the results of this foolishness became manifest, some Sanders supporters began suggesting it was wrong for red state voters to have so much to say about the Democratic nomination.

Only Yankees need apply.

“Given the reality of a Republican presidential primary where the candidates are racing to outdo each other in their contempt for people of color …” Nancy LeTourneau writes in Washington Monthly, “is it any surprise that African-Americans would assume that this country is facing the threat of a confederate insurgency?”

No surprise at all.

Email: eugenelyons2@yahoo.com

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