Ex-Prez Clinton: Blacks on Board

Bubba tells public broadcasting host Tavis Smiley that the Democrats own the black vote and Republicans have deserted their Lincoln roots.

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When it comes to the African-American vote, former President Bill Clinton says that the GOP has done a 180, switching from a pro-black party to one that leans, well, racist. In a taped session for public broadcasting's Tavis Smiley during events commemorating the 50th anniversary of Little Rock's Central High integration, Clinton said that the GOP has evolved away from the days of Lincoln.

Smiley got Clinton on the subject when he contrasted Republican Ike's use of troops in 1957 to force integration with the current refusal by many Republican presidential candidates to attend his All-American Presidential Forum, designed to address issues of concern to African-Americans. Most cited scheduling problems. But Clinton, in the interview to air this weekend, had a different view, reports our Suzi Parker, who sat in on the session.

"First of all, that says more about the evolution of the Republican Party," Clinton said. While Lincoln was the Great Emancipator, Bubba said that the party has switched sides. He found irony in Ronald Reagan's first political speech of the 1980 campaign taking place in Philadelphia, Miss., where three civil rights workers were murdered in one of the 1960s' nastiest cases of racist violence.

"That captured the switching of the party," Clinton said, Parker reports. The Republican Party, populated with prominent black politicians, would argue that it has done a good job reaching out to African-Americans, however.

Still, Clinton went out of his way to praise the race records of two Republican presidential candidates, Sen. John McCain and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

"He has a record on immigration," Clinton said of McCain. "I don't agree with him on Iraq, but he doesn't have a racist bone in his body." On Huckabee, he said, "I like him. Personally I don't agree with him, but I don't think he is a racist. There are people in the Republican Party who care about this on a human level." Still, Clinton—once dubbed by author Toni Morrison as the first black president—said the Democrats should win the black vote. "Our side looks pretty good coming to the next election."