Koch says Clintons Shafted on Race

Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch likes to call himself “a liberal with sanity.”

Sanity, however, is not always popular with his fellow Democrats.  Koch tends to casually blurt out entirely logical opinions which invariably offend what should be any liberal’s core constituencies. 

Blacks. Feminists. Gays. Koch over the years has enraged all these constituency groups that otherwise maintain a stranglehold grip on the Democratic Party.

Koch spoke out against black anti-Semitism long before that was a politically safe position to take. He angered liberals by supporting the death penalty. And Koch dubbed Al Sharpton "Al Charlatan" back when others dared not criticize the reverend.

Now, Koch has once again proved himself a skunk at the liberal garden party. In an interview with this reporter,  Koch, who remains committed to Hillary Clinton for president, disputed the conventional wisdom among liberals, journalists and black leaders that the Clinton presidential campaign has repeatedly played the race card against Barack Obama.  “There is an effort to smear Hillary and Bill with racism,” he said. “That is terribly unfair.”

The Clintons have been repeatedly attacked for innocuous and entirely accurate statements that detractors pretend are actually manifestations of a race-based strategy against Barack Obama. When Hillary Clinton noted that it took Lyndon Johnson to make Martin Luther King’s dream a reality — by getting the civil rights legislation he inspired through Congress — she was accused of racial insensitivity. 

Last week, yet another ruckus erupted after Hillary Clinton told USA Today that she has a broader appeal to voters than Barack Obama.

For proof, Clinton paraphrased an AP story that, she said, “found how Sen. Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans is weakening again, and how whites in both states were supporting me.”

Sounds logical enough, but hyper-liberal New York Times columnist Bob Herbert wrote May 10 that her real message was, “He can’t win! Don’t you understand? He’s black.” 

“What Bob Herbert should do if he really believes that to be the case is attack the AP and USA Today,” responds Koch. “Hillary   did nothing wrong” when she cited the AP story to USA Today.

Koch also strongly defended notorious remarks by Bill Clinton the day of the South Carolina primary. With Obama expected to win, Clinton told reporters, “Jesse Jackson won South Carolina in ’84 and ’88. Jackson ran a good campaign. And Obama ran a good campaign here."

True enough. But liberal bloggers and even an ostensibly objective ABC News reporter accused Clinton of race-baiting with a deliberate attempt to diminish the importance of Obama’s victory in South Carolina.

The backlash left Koch bewildered. “I don’t understand what was wrong with [the comparison]. Jesse Jackson was a superb candidate.”

What really reeks of “racism,” says Koch, is the suggestion that comparing Jesse Jackson to Obama “is to denigrate Obama.”

Koch insisted that the comparison is actually a compliment because Jesse Jackson through his activism helped make it possible for blacks to compete and win in fair elections. For that, Koch said, Jackson “deserves kudos”

Koch, who once said Jews would be “crazy” to vote for Jackson when he ran for president in 1988,  has long since forgiven Jesse Jackson for his anti-Semitic remarks.  “He has overcome [calling New York] Hymietown. I believe in contrition for overcoming sinful behavior. I think you have to give him credit” for overcoming this

Koch is not, however, willing to forgive Obama for his 20 year relationship with the now illustrious Jeremiah Wright. He says Obama’s initial refusal to renounce Wright is likely to be a huge liability in the general election even though it didn’t seem to hurt him in the Indiana and North Carolina primaries last week. “I was shocked that it didn’t have an impact on” Democrats. But “it should have a measurable impact on independents in November.”

Just how much impact it has among independents depends in part on whether John McCain makes Jeremiah Wright an issue. For now he is determined to cover up the controversy.  McCain even argued unsuccessfully that the North Carolina GOP not to air a television advertisement linking Obama and Wright.

But Koch says Jeremiah Wright is fair game and McCain is mistaken not to press it. “If you hold [Obama] responsible for [Wright’s] words that’s wrong,” Koch argued. “If you hold Obama responsible for not speaking out that is appropriate.”

He compared Obama’s silence to a parishioner who had white supremacist David Duke for a pastor and never denounced him. “That person would have to be held responsible. It takes courage to stand up and denounce” someone. Obama, he says, “spoke up twenty years too late.”   

Who is Koch voting for in November if it’s Obama vs. McCain? “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.”

If Obama can’t count on support from a traditional Democrat like Koch he could be in trouble with other like-minded voters. It remains to be seen whether the silver-tongued orator can talk himself out of this mess.

But for now let’s hope that Koch’s comments bring a little bit of sanity to the hard core liberal poised to secure the Democratic nomination for president.