I don’t think that it’s an exaggeration that Rep. James Clyburn helped save Joe Biden’s campaign, and the Democratic Party when he endorsed the former Vice President right before the South Carolina Primary.
hat tip – Balloon Juice
… I met Clyburn for the first time shortly before last month’s South Carolina primary, where his endorsement of Joe Biden almost single-handedly saved the former vice-president’s campaign. The 14-term lawmaker would not say then which candidate he was going to endorse. But he had told some people at his accountant’s funeral the previous week — because, he says confidently, “they would never betray Jim Clyburn”.
As we sip our drinks, I ask him when he told Biden. The pair met on the USS Yorktown, an old aircraft carrier turned museum, six days before the primary. He delivered the good news, but included a stern warning to his friend to stop reading speeches from a script.
“Here’s what I said to him,” Clyburn tells me. “You know these issues well enough not to be reading from a text . . . People can’t feel you when you read it.”
Using lessons he learnt from his father as a “PK” (preacher’s kid), he gave Biden some advice. “There’s a reason that preachers preach in threes,” Clyburn recalls saying. “I want you to answer every question in three ways: here is what my presidency will mean to you, here’s what it will mean to your family, and here’s what it will mean for your community.”…
Armed with Clyburn’s backing, Biden won in a landslide; according to the exit polls, 61 per cent of the voters said the endorsement influenced their decision. That dramatic victory then propelled Biden to win in a slew of states the following week, earning him clear frontrunner status over the leftwing Vermont senator Bernie Sanders.
Clyburn is used to having power in his state. For the past three decades, he’s hosted a fish fry during the Democratic primaries which has become virtually mandatory for would-be candidates to attend. In the course of the 2008 primary, Clyburn criticised Hillary Clinton; on the day that Barack Obama beat her in South Carolina, Clyburn remembers Bill Clinton phoning him at 2.15am, bellowing, “If you bastards want a fight, you damn well will get one.”
Did he ever think his endorsement of Biden would have such an impact? Clyburn says that people underestimated the latent support for Biden — before proudly adding that two women approached him after the primary to say, “Thank you for saving the Democratic party.”
Clyburn has come a long way since his youth in Sumter, a city near Columbia. In his 2014 memoir, Blessed Experiences, he recalls how his high-school band was asked to participate in the Sumter Christmas parade in 1955, the year after the Supreme Court struck down the segregation of public schools. But he and his black bandmates were forced to march at the end of the parade, behind the horses…
He says he lives by an adage from John F Kennedy, which goes something like: “I never get mad, but I will get even.” I joke that Oscar Wilde said it first, with “revenge is a dish best served cold”. Clyburn breaks into a smile: “Kennedy stole a lot from other people, he might have stolen that line.”…
But inexorably the conversation is drawn back to Biden. Clyburn says he would restore civility in politics. For instance, he says, Biden shuns the “bombastic” approach taken by the “Bernie bros” — the moniker for the most radical wing of Sanders’ movement.
Centrist Democrats worry that, should Biden win the nomination, Sanders will hold back from actively campaigning for him. Clyburn does not sound confident that Sanders will help unite the party, or rally his supporters behind Biden. “What’s that old mafia saying — that fish rots from the head.” As he slowly knocks off his crustaceans one by one, he has a warning for one famous supporter of Sanders.
“When I say, ‘I don’t get mad, I get even’, there’s one person who is going to hear from me. His name is Michael Moore,” Clyburn says. The film-maker and longtime Sanders supporter claimed after Biden’s victory in South Carolina that the state was “not representative” of the United States. “I don’t want to say much but I’m going to have a lot to say.”
Come on, I press, and he happily obliges. Reminding me that Biden won more than 60 per cent of the black vote in South Carolina and bigger percentages in Alabama and Mississippi, he says: “According to Michael Moore, South Carolina doesn’t matter because here’s what ‘the people’ want.” He says Moore is dismissing the voices of the most important segment of the Democratic electorate — black voters.
I ask whether Clyburn thinks Biden will pick Stacey Abrams, 46, the African-American former minority leader of the House in Georgia and rising Democratic star, as his running mate to help woo younger voters in November.
“I doubt it,” he says. “There’s something to be said for somebody who has been out there.”
Clyburn does want to see a black woman on the ticket, though. And some Democrats believe that Biden, who has vowed to pick a woman, will also be under heavy pressure to repay Clyburn for his critical endorsement.
Clyburn says there has been a lot of talk about Kamala Harris, the California senator who struggled in the Democratic primary. He says a “sleeper” in the race is Susan Rice, who served as national security adviser to Barack Obama. But he also stresses that “the bench of black women is much deeper than people think”.
While he believes Abrams does not have enough experience, he has his eyes on another Georgia politician. “There is a young lady right there in Georgia who I think would make a tremendous VP candidate, and that’s the mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms.”
It’s getting late, so we secure “one for the road
”. I ask the former history teacher how he sees America’s place in the world. “We’re where Germany was in 1933 after the election of Adolf Hitler,” he warns. But he adds a note of optimism, saying that African-Americans can lead the charge against Trump. He cites as inspiration a hero of the 1930s: Jesse Owens, winner of four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics…
Well, the old teacher has us nailed correctly. I don’t know any community who is more determined to rid us of Dolt45 than Black people. We have not wavered.