Has anyone asked Hillary Clinton if the segregationist and anti-Semite J. William Fulbright was “deplorable?” Seems like a reasonable question, since we’re playing this game. After all, her name is on the prestigious J. William Fulbright-Hillary Rodham Clinton Public Policy Fellowship.
Fulbright wasn’t just a nut with despicable ideas about minorities. He was gifted, influential politician who for decades worked to keep the races segregated through state force. He signed the Southern Manifesto (he helped edit it, actually), opposed Brown v. Board, filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and voted against the 1965 Voting Rights Act. He even voted against Hawaiian statehood to keep its large non-white population out of the union.
Before leaving the spotlight, Fulbright took up another fight, going on national television in 1973 to warn Americans about the nefarious “Jewish influence” in Congress.
The Clintons have honored this man’s political legacy for a long time. The State Department only added Hillary’s name to the fellowship in 2013. Apply, and you too can help “strengthen the public sector” in other countries.
The rapidity and effectiveness in which Democrats have turned attention from Hillary’s assorted lies and corruption to Trump’s birtherism has been impressive. Of course, it’s wholly Trump’s fault that such a pivot is even possible. When you spend years peddling idiotic conspiracy theories about the president’s birth, you’ve not only proven that you’re unfit for office but that you’re probably a racist, as well.
So don’t let Trump off the hook, even if he’s changed his position — because changing your position when it’s politically convenient doesn’t erase the harm you’ve done. Even if you mean it.
Many white supremacists altered their worldview on race when it became politically expedient to do so. Maybe Hillary thinks people like Fulbright, Strom Thurmond, and one-time Klansman Robert Byrd are flawed men who deserve to be honored like George Washington or Thomas Jefferson. She had the benefit knowing them, after all. Someone should ask her.
It’s worth noting that the Clintons never shied away from appealing to the worst propensities of racist voters in Arkansas, going back to Bill Clinton giving Orval Faubus honored status at his first inauguration in Arkansas. Actually, in 2008, the Obama campaign basically accused the Clintons of peddling racism in their last-ditch attempt to dog-whistle their way to a win in South Carolina. They’ve never had to answer for any of it. They never do.
I doubt Bill or Hillary are furtive bigots; it’s just that Clintonism means taking advantage of whatever position, rhetoric, ideology, event, or person is necessary to gain power. Fulbright was the first key to that power. It was well known, if not spoken about often, that Fulbright made Bill Clinton’s career — and thus Hillary’s, as well.
And if you think the media is in the bag for the Clintons today, read this 1995 Los Angeles Times piece covering Bill’s eulogy for Fulbright. It fails to even mention the latter’s segregationist past. Actually, what am I talking about? The administration’s official bio of Fulbright’s Senate career states it “was marked by notable instances of principled dissent” yet never comes close to revealing his 30-year effort to save Jim Crow.
(For some reason the page that once featured Bill’s flattering speech about Fulbright is no longer active on the Clinton Foundation website. A search at the Clinton library doesn’t bring back one result for Bill’s mentor, either, though after some digging in the archives you find his remembrance here: Fulbright was the “Jefferson” of the modern era and a man who “made us believe in the power of reason over fear,” and so on.)
We’re selective about our outrages at remembered history. Today, any good liberal is disgusted by the mere thought of a Confederate flag. (This week, for example, Alexandria, Virginia decided to rename Jefferson Davis Highway.) In 2002, when Trent Lott lamented that Thurmond — who had renounced his racist past just like Fulbright — hadn’t won the presidency in 1948, he was rightly drummed out of Senate leadership. Bill Clinton gave his racist crush the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Hillary was there to give a little speech herself.
Although I can’t find a copy online, in a fawning U.S. News & World Report column covering Hillary’s 2013 speech at the inauguration of the Hillary-Fulbright fellowship — “Poised and Presidential,” of course — Jamie Stiehm refers to the segregationist as “a brilliant Arkansan with a global village sensibility, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and mostly ahead of his time.” Yes, mostly.
Fulbright was a passionate anti-war advocate and admired by many liberals in the 60s. So, much like the Hillary hero eugenicist Margaret Sanger, a woman who helped normalized the taking of life for convenience, Fulbright has been absolved of sin. Liberals defenders like George McGovern later rationalized that Fulbright knew race-related positions were doomed but supported them anyway as a means of holding his power to continue his role as “statesman.” (Bill’s mentor, indeed.) Yet it was Dale Bumpers, the governor who put an end to segregation in Arkansas, who challenged and beat Fulbright in the 1974 Democratic primary.
There’s a massive double standard in how we treat history and politicians. Now, Hillary likes to have it both ways: when advantageous, she portrays herself as a coequal part of a powerful political legacy — “two for the price of one,” she liked to say. When it’s not advantageous, Hillary retroactively becomes a wallflower.
No, not all these issues hold the same weight, of course. But I imagine a media that took time to explore the fate of Mitt Romney’s dog and thought it worthwhile to write about Sarah Palin’s supposed quote of Westbrook Pegler (the brilliant columnist whose far-right screeds late in his career tarnished his legacy forever) could spare a few minutes to check into the Clintons’ history of ugly associations. Starting with the one that’s ongoing.