Hillary Clinton’s Reconstruction Misstep

As I’ve said before, politicians often mangle history in an effort to show how much the know, only to remind us of how much they don’t know or how willing they are to twist the story of the past to fit present needs.

Here we go again.

Last night, at a Democratic town hall, Hillary Rodham Clinton shared her understanding of Reconstruction in answering a question about which president inspired her most. She responded with Abraham Lincoln. Then she explained how Reconstruction would have been better had Lincoln lived … that is better for “southerners.”

(Someone pointed out that Clinton said “people in the South.”)

It’s clear from the context that she’s confused, because while she mentions Jim Crow and segregation, her reference to southerners/ “people in the South” points to the people who instituted those policies, and not to the freedpeople. Blacks were discouraged. Many whites were defiant.

(Note: blacks were also defiant in defending their rights, but that’s another story.)

It did not take long for people to pick up on the comment and criticize it (this link includes tape of the answer). Among those who did so was Ta-Nehisi Coates, who linked to this blog in offering his answer.

Nor did it take long for that well-renowned friend of presidents and Democratic politicians, Harold Holzer, to jump to the defense of the former senator from New York. This was not entirely unexpected: I recall how Holzer once delivered a banquet address on presidents he had known which sounded more like a talk on the presidents who were fortunate enough to have known him.

Holzer claims: “All she was saying — maybe a bit awkwardly, but, I think, sincerely and justifiably — is that a leader of Lincoln’s extraordinary abilities and patience might well have found the means of empowering formerly enslaved persons, granting them rights, and bringing the defeated white Southerners into alignment with these righteous new policies.” That’s excellent spin.

Just another day in the neighborhood.