Editor’s note: The following commentary is excerpted from Jack Cashill’s explosive, soon-to-be-released book, “Ron Brown’s Body: How One Man’s Death Saved The Clinton Presidency and Hillary’s Future.”
Last week, presidential hopeful John Kerry told the American Urban Radio Network: “President Clinton was often known as the first black president. I wouldn’t be upset if I could earn the right to be the second.”
Not everyone in the black community was pleased with his “Black Like Me” noblesse oblige. “John Kerry is not a black man,” said Paula Diane Harris, founder of the Andrew Young National Center for Social Change, “he is a privileged white man who has no idea what it is in this country to be a poor white in this country, let alone a black man.”
In this regard, however, Kerry has much in common with the “first black president,” Bill Clinton. In doing research for my soon-to-be-released book, “Ron Brown’s Body: How One Man’s Death Saved The Clinton Presidency and Hillary’s Future,” I came to see that Clinton’s pose as a Southern boy growing up poor with a single parent amidst his many black friends represents one of the great media frauds of our time.
I also came to see just how consciously Clinton exploited the black community and no member of that community more deeply or more lethally than the late commerce secretary Ron Brown. As events bore witness, his White House – in matters of consequence – would prove to be as segregated as his Hot Springs’ country club or his high school.
It was not until his run for the presidency in 1992 that Clinton made a conscious effort to develop an appropriate style. According to Brown confidante Nolanda Hill, it was Vernon Jordan who taught Clinton the “patois” he needed to communicate to African Americans. As he mastered that patois, Clinton began to create an image for himself that appealed even to sophisticated African Americans.
The hard work paid off in 1998. At the climax of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, famed author Toni Morrison anointed Clinton as “our first black president.” “After all,” Morrison continued in her much-discussed New Yorker article, “Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas.”
For his valuable book, “Bill Clinton and Black America,” columnist Dewayne Wickham invited some 40 prominent African Americans to lend their impressions of Bill Clinton and explain why he was “wildly popular with the vast majority of African Americans.” This level of popularity was possible, however, only because African Americans bought into a carefully crafted myth about Clinton’s life.
“He had a poor upbringing,” observes TV reporter April Woodard of Clinton. “What separates him from every other president – and basically from most white politicians – is that he grew up with a lot of black kids,” adds Michael Frisby. Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. comments that Clinton’s “experience as a poor white Southerner growing up is comparable to the experiences that poor African Americans in the South have grown up with.”
The Clintons and their media friends had deceived them all. In fact, Clinton lived a young life that was almost uniquely luxurious given the time and place. “The refrigerator was stocked to his taste,” the Washington Post’s David Maraniss reports in “First In His Class.” Clinton’s bedroom, and he never had to share one, was the largest in the house. He had his own bathroom, perhaps the only teen in the state so blessed. Meanwhile in the carport sat the black four-door finned Buick that young Bill drove to his segregated Hot Springs High School. For special occasions, like a trip to the whites-only country club, there was also the family’s cream yellow Henry J coupe. By 19, Clinton was driving a white Buick convertible with red interior. The notion he was “poor” or came from “the wrong side of the tracks” is laughable.
Of note, no biography shows Clinton interacting with any African Americans at any time in his Arkansas youth. Nor do we sense any particular racial sensitivity about a life lived in the already archaic world of the Old South. Indeed, in his audio book, “More than Sex: The Secrets of Bill and Hillary Clinton Revealed,” Arkansas state trooper Larry Patterson contends that Clinton referred to Jesse Jackson, among others, as a “nigger” as late as 1992 and routinely tolerated racial slurs by others. Patterson is not alone in making this charge.
Upon election, Clinton chose a cabinet conspicuously designed to “look like America.” “He put black people in real power positions,” observes former Atlanta mayor Bill Campbell. “That alone goes a long way in explaining why this guy was so popular with black folks.”
Ron Brown learned the hard way, however, just how illusory that power was. He sensed the depth of that deception with the publication in 1994 of Robert Woodward’s “The Agenda.” What mattered to Brown about the book, what stung and humiliated him, as he told Nolanda Hill, was he seemed to have played almost no part in creating Clinton’s domestic agenda.
In fact, of the 31 Democrats who comprise Woodward’s “cast of characters,” not one is a racial minority of any kind. Of the 70 identifiable faces (including repetition) in the photo section of the book, all are white. And this is the “domestic” team. On the national security front, minorities did not even enjoy the illusion of power.
Time after time, the Clintons exploited the trust of their minority appointees and used them less for information than insulation. This pattern became apparent at the time of the Monica Lewinsky affair. As the president told the story, it was Betty Currie that Monica came to see. It was Bill Richardson who offered her a job at the United Nations. It was Vernon Jordan who chose to intercede for her at Revlon. These interventions cost the three a huge amount of anxiety and some staggering legal bills.
Hillary Clinton was not above a little exploitation herself. In unrelated incidents, it was not Hillary, but her loyal aid Maggie Williams who cleared out Vince Foster’s office after his death and accepted Johnny Chung’s $50,000 donation in the White House. These acts led to huge legal bills for Williams as well.
Hillary Clinton had her own plans for Ron Brown. In April 1993, she invited him to a one-on-one lunch on the balcony of the White House. According to Hill, who “debriefed” Brown after the patio lunch, they were about to give him the unofficial title “California Czar.” As Brown would soon enough realize, the “czar” claptrap was cover for a deeper California assignment, one that put Brown face to face with the one “minority” group the Clintons respected and Brown feared: the Chinese.
Incredible as it may sound, the Clintons were prepared to approve the sale of the former Long Beach Naval Station to a company wholly owned by the People’s Republic of China. The company was called COSCO, the China Ocean Shipping Company, and it was part of the Chinese navy. In time, U.S. intelligence sources would learn of Chinese plans to use the station as a base for espionage – no surprise there – and Congress would kill the deal. But Congress intervened only after Brown had died. While alive, Brown knew more about the Chinese than he wanted to. And Long Beach was just one thing out of many that he knew he shouldn’t have known.
Like the other minorities in the cabinet, Brown was not just exploitable. He was expendable.