In the young, bright, hopeful days of the Clinton administration, when we couldn’t stop thinkin’ about tomorrow, sharks swarmed around the ship of state. Private detectives were combing Arkansas for anyone who had the dirt on Bill or Hillary. Publishing companies were secretly founded and bankrolled by right-wing millionaires to provide tell-all books for review on the news. Ministers told their congregations that Satan voted Democratic.
During this time, the President used the tactics that would keep him afloat politically. He accommodated, double-talked, and lightened the load. One of those he tossed overboard was Professor Lani Guinier.
Ms. Guinier was President Clinton’s nominee for assistant attorney general for civil rights. She was a law professor and civil-rights attorney for ten years with the NAACP. As a writer, she left a paper trail, and as a thinker she explored some unconventional ways to remedy the ‘tyranny of the majority’. Her publications presented an opportunity to discredit the President by misrepresenting her ideas. Her legal arguments were taken out of context and reduced to sound bites, and she was reduced to the ‘quota queen’.
It got quite personal. The joke was, ‘funny hair, funny name’. Her wavy biracial hair and her principled honesty did not play well with the part of the electorate that had been primed by President Reagan to see every Black woman as some kind of ‘queen’. Welfare queen, quota queen, and (as Dr. Joycelyn Elders) condom queen.
President Clinton caved again and again as if you can appease sharks with a steady supply of your supporters over the rail. He enabled and strengthened the right-wing attack machine. He didn’t call prejudice for what it was, just reassured the voters that he was a God-fearing conservative moderate middle type of guy. It worked great politically. President Clinton could not be pried out of the White House even with impeachment. It was bad for our country. It left the Democratic party reactive at best and Republican-lite at worst.
It was also very destructive to Ms. Guinier. Her pain is apparent in a commencement address she gave in 1994, about a year after her failed nomination.
Lani Guinier told the Hunter College graduating class yesterday that the lesson she learned from her brush with Washington politics last year is that silence is not golden.
During her speech, Ms. Guinier said that after President Clinton withdrew her nomination as assistant attorney general for civil rights, some said that she should not have been so vocal about her views.
“These people suggest that if I had been more quiet about what I was about, that I would have gotten the job, and then I could have gone on and done the job,” she said after she was presented with an honorary doctorate of jurisprudence. “But I believe that if silence is the price of admission, it is also the cost of doing the job.”
…Ms. Guinier, whose mother graduated from Hunter in 1939, told the graduates that the events of last year were “my worst nightmare come true.” Ms. Guinier said that opinion makers have trouble understanding that complex problems require complex solutions.
“We demonize our opponents,” she said.
“We see things as two-sided rather than multidimensional,” she said. “We seem to have lost our political will to confront rather than to condemn our problems.”
She is so right that our country has been split apart by bigotry and a craving for simple solutions that do not exist.
The graceless abandonment of Lani Guinier was never really forgiven or forgotten by the people who cared about her nomination. It stands as one reason that a vote for Hillary Clinton is not a feminist no-brainer. Ms. Guinier recently stated her support for Barack Obama.
Professor Lani Guinier of Harvard Law School, who is supporting Mr. Obama, said the key distinction between Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton lies in how they view their relationship to power. In doing so, Ms. Guinier, whose nomination as assistant attorney general for civil rights in 1993 was pummeled by conservative groups and aborted by the White House, referred to their respective biographies.
Mrs. Clinton is the ‘talented lawyer serving her clients’, Ms. Guinier said. Mr. Obama is the organizer, she said, ‘who sees the source of his power as the ability to inspire people to mobilize’.
I’m feeling very inspired lately. And if you are wondering what Lani Guinier is up to these days, check out Minerâ€™s Canary. I have to say, the woman has a sense of humor.