Juan Williams: Clyburn is my choice as politician of the year

Bonnie Cash

Who is the top politician of the last year?

“Come on, man,” as President-elect Biden likes to say.

It is Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), the House Majority Whip.

Why?

{mosads}The biggest political story of the year is the defeat of President Trump.

If not for Clyburn, Biden would not have been on the ballot to defeat Trump.

Clyburn picked Biden off the mat to make him the winner in the Democratic primary fight.

Name another Democrat who could have beaten Trump, an incumbent president with a fired-up base, a record bankroll and total control over the GOP.

The other leading Democrats would have been demonized by Trump’s attack machine as your crazy, socialist uncle [Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)]; mocked as ‘Pocahontas’ [Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)]; or demeaned for being young and gay [former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D)].

Whites, Latinos and young Black Democrats voting in the early primary races felt nothing for the moderate, elderly Biden — until Clyburn made the call of the year by endorsing a candidate able to withstand the mudslinging.

He took his late wife’s advice.

Last week, Clyburn told me that after a 2019 South Carolina fish-fry with about 20 candidates seeking the nomination, his wife Emily told him, “Joe’s your best bet to defeat Trump.”

Once Clyburn publicly stood by Biden, the dominoes began to fall. Black Democrats, starting in Clyburn’s South Carolina, made Biden a winner. Democrats across the south, Midwest and west got on board.

Biden himself understands Clyburn’s importance to everything that has happened since then.

Biden called Clyburn on election night and told him, “I would never be in this position, but for you.”

A historian agrees, too.

“Without Jim Clyburn endorsing Joe Biden, Donald Trump would be president for real — not just in his own mind,” Jon Meacham recently explained to Bill Maher on HBO.

And here is something else to bolster Clyburn’s standing atop 2020 politics:

If not for Clyburn, a Black woman would probably not be set to be vice president for the first time.

Clyburn recommended several Black women as potential running mates, he said in an interview last week.

“Joe and I talked in detail about them all. I thought the election would turn on whether that woman [was] a Black woman. To his credit, he made a wise decision.”

Biden won 90 percent of the Black female vote, according to exit polls. Even before that, record fundraising followed the announcement that he had selected Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) as his running mate.

Clyburn saw the emotional power of that choice. The 80-year-old congressman explained that his three daughters and two granddaughters will live in a country where the ambitions of Black women can soar to new heights because of Harris.

On the night when Biden stood on a Delaware stage to declare he had won the election, he acknowledged the critical role Black voters, spurred by Clyburn, played in his victory:

“Especially at those moments when this campaign was at its lowest ebb, the African-American community stood up again for me. You’ve always had my back, and I’ll have yours.”

That promise makes Clyburn a power player going into 2021.

Why?

Clyburn is the leading voice in Biden’s ear on civil rights as the incoming president begins to handle the racial fires still burning after the massive fall-out from the May death of George Floyd, a black man who had his neck pinned under a policeman’s knee until he died.

The powerful, nationwide “Black Lives Matter” movement still has strong political support across racial and political lines. But in the presidential campaign, Trump turned it against Democrats. He played up incidents of looting and mocked the slogan “Defund the Police” in order to diminish all calls for racial justice.

With Biden in the White House, Clyburn is the leading Black politician on racial issues. He is already on record calling “Defund the Police” a bad slogan that cost Democrats at the polls. He tells me he prefers “Reimagining Policing.”

{mossecondads}He wants Biden to begin pattern-and-practice investigations of police departments to stop abuse. He wants to fix flaws in the 1994 crime bill. His pragmatic view will have influence.

Clyburn is also positioned to hold President Biden’s feet to the fire when white advisors will be cautioning him to stay away from racially charged issues.

In 2018, I gave the politician of the year award jointly to Harris and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Not to brag, but I said their influence would be felt in Washington for years to come.

Last year, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) won for bringing Democrats back into the House majority and effectively defying Trump.

This year, I am tempted to give grudging acknowledgement to McConnell again, this time for putting so many conservative judges on the federal bench, including another on the Supreme Court.

But that effort doesn’t match the importance of deposing Trump.

Oh, there is one other political player who deserves recognition:

Dr. Anthony Fauci resisted political pressure and shameful libel from Trump to tell the American people the truth.

Fauci’s candor even earned him a flattering portrayal on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” by Brad Pitt.

That’s enough of an ego boost for 2020.

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.

Tags 2020 Democratic Party primary 2020 presidential election African-American Anthony Fauci Bernie Sanders Bill Maher Black vote Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Joe Biden Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Pete Buttigieg

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