Rep. Clyburn accuses Dem colleagues of using racist 'dog whistles' in leadership race

Rep. Jim Clyburn, running for the #3 leadership spot in the new Democratic House, is accusing some members of his own party of using racial "dog whistles" to defeat him.

The State:

“I don’t know where it’s all coming from,” Clyburn said in an interview with McClatchy. “But someone came to me over the weekend and told me that (they heard), when I was whip before, I was a figurehead.”

Suggestions that, as the only black member of the leadership team, he was a token and not an effective leader, were tantamount to “the little dog whistles that have been floating around this side for a long time,” Clyburn said.

“What do you mean, I was a figurehead? Nothing could be further from the truth,” he added.

Clyburn came of age in the segregated South, was frequently jailed for fighting for civil rights and didn’t win his first election until 1992, at the age of 52.

The majority whip will be the third-ranking position in the House Democratic leadership when the party takes control of the chamber next year. The whip is charged with rounding up votes on the House floor — and occasionally pressuring wavering colleagues to vote the way leadership desires.

Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colorado, is challenging Clyburn for the job. Clyburn, who was the whip the last time Democrats held the majority, from 2007 to 2011, said as of Tuesday afternoon he had not spoken to DeGette since she declared her candidacy and did not blame her as the source of the “rhetoric that I don’t think is complimentary to the (Democratic) caucus.”

DeGette’s spokesman, Matt Inzeo, said the congresswoman “categorically and respectfully rejected” the notion that she or her supporters were using racially-motivated talking points to undermine Clyburn.

Are some Democrats really saying that Clyburn was only elected majority whip last time because he was black? Say it ain't so! Clyburn's problem is that he isn't a fire breathing, bomb throwing Democrat. He's actually quite low key. Younger Democrats want someone who will kick butt and take no prisoners in the House leadership, which is why the aging civil rights leader is having trouble.

If Clyburn had charged Republicans with using racial "dog whistles"...well, you know the rest. We'd never hear the end of it. Instead, this is a private spat between an aging civil rights icon and a younger, more aggressive generation.

In fact, there may be a general rebellion against the aging septugenarians who are currently in the leadership.

For the past several months, Clyburn’s most trusted allies have been floating the idea that the 78-year-old lawmaker could become speaker if Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, also 78, did not have the support.

Publicly and privately, fellow members of the Congressional Black Caucus were urging Clyburn to be more self-promotional. They said he needed to let people know how much money he was raising for the party and how aggressively he was traveling to support congressional candidates.

Supporters warned Clyburn that his low-key style — his “southern gentleman” demeanor, in the words of Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio — might not be able to survive the aggressive chest-thumping of a leadership race.

During the campaign season, there was even chatter that Clyburn should consider competing against 79-year-old Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the current House minority whip, for majority leader, ensuring a black lawmaker would hold one of the top two leadership slots.

There you have the Democratic party in a nutshell; aging members leading a party obsessed with identity politics. 

Should Democrats demand that younger people lead them? With 3 of the top 5 presidential candidates in their late 60's or 70's, the party that is currently attracting the youth vote could use an infusion of younger blood before the 2020 presidential race.

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