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Bill Clinton and Black America. (nonfiction reviews).

Bill Clinton and Black America
by Dewayne Wickham
One World/Ballantine, February 2002
$24.00, ISBN 0-345-45032-9

It was only a matter of time before some capable pundit sought to explain black America's romance with former President William Jefferson Clinton without falling victim to the myth and magic that surrounds this love affair. Columnist Dewayne Wickham's attempt to do so in Bill Clinton and Black America tries to accomplish this feat by approaching its subject from another angle, instead of attacking it head on.

With chapter introductions that showcase Wickham at his acerbic best, the book eventually collapses under the weight of all-too-flattering, fawning memories of "the Man" hobnobbing with the black elite and the masses, without probing too deeply into his flaws and failings. The chapters in this well-intentioned fan letter feature such titles as "The Man," "A Kindred Soul," "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner" and "The Black Elite," concluding with a cursory look at the former president's inner circle and an interesting in-depth interview conducted by the author with Clinton.

Wickham lines up many of the best and brightest from African-American politics, religion and the media, to pay homage to the shrewd Arkansas-born politician. Most are names we easily recognize: radio talk-show host Tom Joyner, publicist Terrie Williams, author Alice Randall, columnist Betty Baye, NAACP president and CEO Kwesi Mfume, civil rights activist Mary Frances Berry and attorney Johnnie Cochran, among others. It's not surprising that almost all of them recall Clinton's intellectual brilliance, his love of soul food, his charisma, his "common touch," and his ability to discuss any number of political and cultural subjects with great ease. Several even remember Clinton knowing and singing every lyric of the Negro National Anthem "Lift Every Voice and Sing," his skill at handling a plate of ribs or chitlins, or his unprecedented visit by a sitting U.S. president to Africa. Even Clinton's cloakroom antics with Monica Lewinsky were forgiven by most of those interviewed with a mere wave of the hand.

But for those readers who remember Clinton's backing of the punitive crime bill, his cruel welfare reform edict, his embarrassing retreat on the Lani Guinier nomination, and other political shortcomings, this book is a bitter pill to swallow. There are a few naysayers here, however, who politely question his moral judgment and the genuineness of his commitment to African Americans. Even if this was just politics, they say, at least it made us feel wanted, loved and respected. And that is no small thing.

If that is all Clinton, our "first black president" accomplished with his support of black issues and culture, then it is a great deal more than we got in the past. That alone makes this book worthwhile. Bill Clinton and Black America is not just a celebration of Clinton or his presidency, but of us--our culture and our perseverance. Still, though this book is a sometimes obsequious, feel-good tribute, we await a real, no-holds-barred analysis of the Clinton era and its racial politics.

--Robert Fleming is the author of The Elders of Wisdom and The African American Writer's Handbook.
COPYRIGHT 2002 Cox, Matthews & Associates
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Copyright 2002, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Fleming, Robert
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2002
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