Juan Williams is a senior correspondent for National Public Radio (NPR). He is also a political analyst for the Fox News Channel and a panelist on Fox News Sunday. He is the author of Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America, Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary, and Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965, among other books. During his 21-year career at the Washington Post, Williams served as an editorial writer, op-ed columnist, and White House correspondent. He lives in Washington, DC.
As you reported in The New York Times, Senator Obama (D-IL) "has built his political base among White voters" and the senator "actually trails Hillary Clinton" in national polling of African Americans. This news comes at a time when the Pew Research Center reports that White Americans are more than twice as likely to be optimistic about the future as African Americans. Furthermore, 49 percent of Black Americans say their lives are no better off than they were five years ago; another 29 percent say that their lives are worse. Do you think that pessimism is eroding support Senator Obama would otherwise receive from African Americans?
Yes, and I think that also it's a function of who's pessimistic. The people who support Barack Obama in the Black community tend to be well-educated people; more affluent, as well. And people who have had more global experiences and have a sense of a reason for being optimistic about the American economy or the American century to come. Often the people who identify Obama as not really Black are people who don't have education and people who are not doing well in the current economy. They see him as an Ivy League educated--Columbia undergrad, Harvard Law School--guy. And a guy whose father is Black, but comes from Kenya, and whose mother is White. So he's part of a highly educated, affluent, global society. That's threatening to people who feel left behind. As a result they don't identify with him and they're not quick to support him.
What are some of the reasons for the African American support enjoyed by Senator Clinton (D-NY)?
Her husband, Bill Clinton, was president for two terms in this country. Toni Morrison dubbed him the "first Black president." And, the other day, Andrew Young said in a statement that I think has raised a lot of eyebrows--he says that "Bill Clinton has dated more Black women than Barack Obama; he's just as Black if not Blacker than Barack Obama." I mean, it's very interesting, but even with the kind of offensive tone, you can sense that what Ambassador Young is trying to say is that he is comfortable with Bill Clinton and that the Black community knows and appreciates Bill Clinton. I think part of this, therefore, is that for the Black political establishment, they know how the patronage flows from the likes of Bill Clinton; they have established networks of relationships and they know that when they go to Clinton officials they can get the kind of response, including response for funding, that they have counted on. So they expect that if Hillary Clinton is elected that same network of influential connections and patronage will be back in action, and they look forward to that day.
The second thing to say, though, is beyond that, Hillary Clinton strikes a number of people as experienced and able to play the Washington game and deliver for them. So you see that working class--middle class, working class and lower income--Black people support Hillary Clinton and that's the strength of her support in the Black community. They question the level of Barack Obama's experience. They don't really know him. They don't know what to expect of him. They don't know if he would be the kind of person who felt he had to prove something by not being overly generous with the Black community. …