“Getting us coffee”

I have no particular reluctance to believe bad things about Bill Clinton, and I continue to think that some of what he said about Barack Obama in 2008 had unpleasant racial overtones.  But if in fact he said to Ted Kennedy about Obama that “a few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee,” isn’t the obvious reference to Obama’s youth rather than his race?

That’s putting aside the question of what Clinton actually said, since what we have is Heliemann and and Halperin’s reporting of what some unnamed third party told them Kennedy had told him about something Clinton had supposedly said to Kennedy.  That’s three layers of hearsay, one of them anonymous and another of them dead.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

15 thoughts on ““Getting us coffee””

  1. In any event, isn't the comment a positive one, as in 'haven't we come a long way, and isn't it good'? I certainly detect no trace of 'and he still should be in the servile position'. Are people trying to criticize Clinton for having said this, if he did? Pretty weak coffee…

  2. I've never heard anything else racially vicious attributed to Bill Clinton. He wrongly thought that Obama was getting extra points for being black, and wrongly held that against Obama (i.e., it wouldn't have been at all terrible even if it had been true). But that's a thousand miles away from expressing a wish that black people knew their place.

    And to Teddy Kennedy, really. It's conceivable that Clinton might express such a sentiment among some Arkansas rednecks he was trying to fit in with. But why would he think Teddy Kennedy would be sympathetic to such a concern?

  3. Mark, exactly why did you publish this piece of shit? Unsubstantiated, dead second party, trying for the Washington Post's exceptional bullshit award? There is absolutely no legitimate reason to post this and what is worse is that you know it.

  4. Considering Clinton thinks interns should be providing both coffee and sexual favours, why would this be any less offensive?

  5. yoyo, your comment implies that Clinton engaged in sexual harassment with Lewinski, when that has never been charged. It has been assumed that Lewinski consented, and not in the face of any fear for her job or working conditions.

  6. Note also that as quoted on Politico, the authors do not use quotation marks around the purported Clinton comment, even though it's worded as if it were a direct quote. Presumably the absence of quote marks means it's at least second-hand.

    I've read a number of excerpts from the book so far, and the authors use this quote-markless-quote technique repeatedly. Of course, when someone reports about something in the book, this distinction is likely to be lost–as it is in Mark's post, which makes it appear that those were Clinton's actual words. Frankly, I think that's unethical on the authors' part. If a quote is second-hand, it should be phrased as an indirect quote, or the source should be quoted directly, e.g., "A friend of Teddy's said, 'Teddy said, "Clinton said, 'A few years ago…'"'"

    Not using quote marks for second- or third-hand purportedly direct quotes is certainly neater and more convenient, but it obscures the distance of the authors from the actual words uttered. Those reporting on the book either should (as Politico does) quote it directly with enough context to make it clear that the authors aren't actually quoting directly; or should quote the book itself, including the quoted remarks, indirectly ("The authors write that a friend of Teddy's told them Kennedy had said Clinton remarked to him that Obama would have been getting them coffee a few years ago"). It certainly wouldn't hurt for reporters on the book to point out which purported quotes are not firsthand.

    It's hard not to assume the authors knew few would go to this kind of trouble, thereby lending their second- and third-hand quotes undeserved authenticity and selling more copies of their book.

  7. the thing is, it isn't obvious what clinton would have meant, and that may be the point. heilmann and halperin are "shit disturbers," dropping little bombs here and there to get us all excited and reading their, well, crap. you can take the comments of clinton and reid almost any way you want. the most stupid thing reid did was talk to halperin or heilmann in the first place.

  8. To me it seemed, right off the bat, as a reflection on racial progress in America. Certainly not derogatory in any way.

  9. Seriously, when has "barista" ever been viewed as either a servile job or a job performed primarily by blacks? Sheeesh.

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