An East Tennessee State University historian has written one of the first scholarly examinations of the Bill Clinton presidency from the perspective of race and class. Dr. Daryl A. Carter, associate professor in the ETSU Department of History, is the author of the new book “Brother Bill: President Clinton and the Politics of Race and Class.”
This is Carter’s first book. It grew out of his Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Memphis. Carter, a political historian, is a graduate of Science Hill High School and holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in history from ETSU.
In the book, Carter describes African Americans as Clinton’s most loyal constituency. He quotes novelist Toni Morrison, who, in a 1998 speech, referred to Clinton, for a variety of reasons, as “our first black president.” However, Carter asserts, “Clinton frustrated African Americans with his propensity to take both sides of an issue and hash out compromises that African American politicians believed had a negative impact on their community.”
A case in point, according to Carter, is the Racial Justice Act of the 1994 crime bill, which “compounded the crisis in Black America.” Carter writes that Clinton’s backing of the legislation “gave credence to conservative ideas that argued prison was the only answer to social problems. The prison-industrial complex grew exponentially as a result of the crime bill of 1994.”
“Brother Bill” examines one of the most controversial issues of the Clinton presidency, welfare reform, and Clinton’s promise to “end welfare as we know it.” Of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, which Clinton supported, Carter writes, “One of the consequences of the passage of this law was that it removed welfare from the national discourse. Yet it also helped to consign some of the most vulnerable members of American society further into the muck of the underclass.”
Carter devotes an entire chapter in his book to the 1997 President’s Initiative on Race, created through an Executive Order issued by President Clinton. Carter attributes much of the initiative’s failure to Clinton’s personal distractions at the time, and he believes that the initiative came to symbolize the contradictions of the Clinton administration.
The One America initiative, Carter writes, “captures the hope, promise, and failure of President Clinton and his administration to fulfill the promise that was displayed in the weeks after his election in November 1992.”
Carter concludes that the Clinton legacy is mixed: “greedy yet benevolent, kind-hearted yet harsh, technocratic yet democratic. The Clintons represent not just the ’60s generation but America in the post-war world.”
“Brother Bill: President Clinton and the Politics of Race and Class” was published in June of 2016 by the University of Arkansas Press.