Former President Bill Clinton has always possessed seemingly extraordinary super-human powers. Not only can he take 243 strokes at Pebble Beach and still miraculously finish 6 under par, but he can morph from white to black, and vice-versa, with chameleon-like ease. He's also being accused of morphing rents sky-high in Harlem.
Bill Clinton's given title of the "first black president" could be in retroactive jeopardy.
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The Independent (the newspaper, not Joe Lieberman) in the U.K. reported last week that dozens of angry blacks had demonstrated outside Clinton's Harlem office. The demonstraters claimed that Clinton's move into the area has led to a gentrification that has seen rents double since 2000. Fears of a cost of living increase in Harlem began as soon as Clinton announced he was locating his office in Harlem. For many local residents, watching Clinton's U-Haul chock full of presidential memorabilia and White House china drive into the neighborhood, it was a case of "there goes the neighborhood."
If I lived in the area, my immediate concern would be more for my wife than my rent. That aside, what's happening, if anything, between Bubba and his fellow African-Americans? Could this be the beginning of a larger rift? Will Clinton soon start using terms like "fo' shizzle" to make up any lost ground? Was the fact that the Clinton Library gave away free watermelon this past 4th of July a cracker-esque attempt to heal the wound? Questions abound.
It seems like only yesterday (Oct. 19, 2002 to be exact) that former president Bill Clinton was honored, perhaps in part because his middle name is "Jefferson," to become the first white guy inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame. All the talk about Clinton being ''the first black president'' and the "fact" that he is wildly popular among black Americans has always brought to mind the perplexing question, ''Just what has Clinton done for African-Americans in order to garner such appreciation?''
The gentrification story answers that question with, ''certainly not help keep rent affordable.'' But it goes deeper than that.
I decided to do a little casual checking into what exactly Bill Clinton has done for, and to, African-Americans.
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First off, for most of the '80s, as Arkansas governor, Clinton did his best to see to it that blacks didn't fall for all that ''decade of greed'' talk, with 1990 census statistics showing white Arkansas families with a median income of $22,550, and black families at $12,128. Good thing Clinton was there to fight for them, or else black families in Arkansas would have finished the '80s owing money.
Later on, as president, Clinton also offered his now famous sage advice to a black business executive. At a town hall meeting, Herman Cain, the CEO of the Godfathers Pizza chain, raised concerns to Clinton about the cost of employer mandates. Clinton's answer – as the most powerful man in the world unleashed an economic intellectual energy so low it couldn't have even powered a potato clock – was stunning. Clinton offered Cain an idea to fight high taxes that the CEO probably hadn't thought of – hadn't thought of because of its inane stupidity. Clinton's answer was, ''just raise your price.'' Gee, that was easy. It took only four seconds to turn the Laffer curve into the laughter curve.
What would have happened if Cain had, in a fit of neuron-fizzle, followed Clinton's advice? More than likely, his customers would have fulfilled their pepperoni and mozzarella needs at a place where a pizza didn't cost as much as a Cadillac CTS. Then Cain, and all his employees, would have been out of work – victims of the man who loves them so much.
Another reason for African-Americans to love Bill Clinton? He's displayed a tremendous respect for black heritage. In 2001, the historic landmark, the Choctaw Terminal, built in part by craftsmen who were former slaves, a building which was truly a piece of black history, was leveled to make room for the world's largest tribute to a single-wide trailer, the Clinton Presidential Library.
If the protests over Bubba's Harlem office driving up the cost of living there continue, the irony of it all is that Bill Clinton, in order to maintain his facade of blackness, may have to someday move his office out of Harlem. Where might he end up? Any black neighborhood that isn't in Arkansas is the next potential victim.