Friday, April 4, 2014

More Clinton papers released - shows thinking on race

Courtesy, William J. Clinton Presidential Library
The Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas has released a third set of confidential correspondence from the Bill Clinton presidency.  The public can now view, for the first time, about seven files containing about 3,400 pages.  According to Politico, these files don’t appear to include some of the more sensitive and scandal-related documents believed to be in the set of about 33,000 pages of documents. These documents were initially withheld under restrictions that expire 12 years after a president leaves office.

There’s a broad sweep of presidential events covered in the recently released papers related to both domestic and foreign policy. From preparing for the State of the Union address in 1996 and 1997, the president’s farewell address in 2001, the World Trade Organization 50th anniversary, plans for the second term, to drafts of speeches to business leaders and college graduates.

So what you’ll see in this installment of White House documents are vivid reminders of the hot button issues that unfolded during the Clinton presidency such as crime (that’s adult and juvenile), welfare reform, poverty, and the global economy.  Internal memos and handwritten notes offering political advice as well as staff engaging in debate as positions are argued.  There were strategic plans around using commencement addresses to serve a political purpose. See the following from an April 1996 memo: “This memorandum outlines themes and topics for this spring's commencement addresses. We propose that you do a total of four such speeches -- the three currently scheduled, plus an additional speech at a site to be determined. These speeches would give the press and public a sense of what your goals for the nation would be during a second term, and would show how those goals flow from the goals you ran on in 1992 and the policies that you have put in place since then.

These papers serve an important purpose as they provide some insight, not just to the president’s thinking, but they also shed some light on staff around him who gives the president political advice and counsel.  There were internal memos where Gene Sperling – in just two weeks after the 1996 reelection – outlines the importance of presidential legacies as well as the issues that would potentially highlight Clinton’s pending legacy. Consider for a moment, the following suggestions from White House aide, Bruce Reed captured in a December 1995 internal memo to Chief of Staff: “Declaring war on gangs, the way Bobby Kennedy declared war on organized crime: We would want to know how much we can actually accomplish before taking on such an ambitious challenge…A war on gangs might include: more aggressive prosecution, including: an FBI Most Wanted List of the 10 Most Dangerous Gangs, high-profile indictments of gang leaders…”.

In a previous post about the Clinton papers, I wrote that these confidential memos could represent a window of opportunity to finally have a debate about the successes and failures of the Clinton presidency – a debate that failed to gain traction in the past. While some of the most recently released documents show how Clinton effectively framed racially sensitive issues like crime and welfare around opportunity and responsibility – meeting 1992 campaign promises.

Courtesy, William J. Clinton Presidential Library
Consider for a moment that there was a time during his presidency when Mr. Clinton was routinely (and ridiculously) referred to as the “first Black President.” While President Obama stands confronted to criticism about his off and on relationship with Black America – Bill Clinton, during his presidency – was largely supported by Black America, as Bill Clinton slowly emerged as the self-appointed spokesman on race and race relations.

In these recently released documents were internal memos outlining strategic planning around the President’s Race Initiative. The documents also contained several drafts to the speech, considered one of Clinton’s major speeches, when he launched the National Conversation on Race or what is more commonly known as the Race Initiative at the University of California at San Diego back in 1997. 

Courtesy, William J. Clinton Presidential Library
There was the handwritten note by an unidentified staff aide on a speech draft that said: “The President needs to set a vision of what an America could be if we lived up to our potential. There were more handwritten notes scrawled on notepaper that argued: “We need to balance the myths not all whites think the same…”, and “But I also remember young people, Black, White & Brown marching hand in hand singing we shall overcome during the turbulent moments of the civil rights movement…” and lastly, “Michael, we need to use some examples of whites helping to transform history.”

There were also internal memos written in December 1997 that show Secretary Andrew Cuomo arguing for an “urban agenda”, where he asserted: Please allow me to argue a simple point: there must be an 'urban agenda"' piece as a policy cornerstone of the One America Initiative - in the State of the Union. Here are the seven urgent reasons supporting this point...” Mr. Cuomo continues, “You cannot credibly address racial issues without an urban strategy. An expanded empowerment agenda can be a lesson learned from the One America dialogue and can be the action item to complement and strengthen the dialogue.” Mr. Cuomo wrapped up his memo with: “In short, this is not your father's" urban agenda.”

Check out The Blackboard's Facebook page here and Follow The Blackboard on Facebooks

No comments:

Post a Comment