Clinton heeds my Harlem advice

Posted: Feb 21, 2001 12:00 AM
OSCAR WILDE once said, "I always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it. It is never any use to oneself." Well, that was certainly the case with me. I suggested in this space that Bill Clinton could solve many of his post-presidential problems by forgetting his fat office space in downtown Manhattan and instead move into some phat office space in Harlem. "Harlem Could be Clinton's Best Move Yet," was the headline. A quick Nexis database search reveals I am the only pundit to recommend the Harlem move. I followed up on C-Span's "Morning Journal" by making the same point. I'm accustomed to screaming shameless plugs for my column without hearing even the faintest echo. So imagine my surprise on Monday afternoon when - while trying to take a nap with the TV on - BAM! I hear that Bill Clinton's moving on up to the Upper, Upper West Side, to a deluxe office in the sky. John Harris of The Washington Post reports that Clinton aides intend the office switch to help them "move beyond damage control and turn his choice of offices into a positive statement." In my column I wrote that Clinton needs to "give the press something else to talk about, preferably something positive." Hmmm. Now I admit that I may have oversold the benefits of following my advice. I wrote that "In minutes, Clinton would erase all memory of the mini-scandals that have plagued him during the last few weeks and would launch himself into an honorable post-presidential career." Alas, the same front pages heralding Clinton's potential move to 125th Street also mention that Attorney General John Ashcroft is considering a probe into the Marc Rich pardon. So maybe the memory of Clinton's mini scandals will linger a bit longer. Then again, the Rich pardon has turned into a maxi-scandal. So I could still be technically correct in a Clintonian way; "it depends on what the meaning of 'mini' is." The personal irony for me, however, comes from initial response to my suggestion. A C-Span caller said that, "as an African-American," he found my Harlem advice to be "insensitive." Afterward, I received e-mails accusing me of "racism" for my suggestion. This raises the question: Is it racist for Bill Clinton to set up office in Harlem? Was it racist for Harlem Congressman Charles Rangel to call Clinton over the weekend - possibly inspired by me - to recommend the move to Clinton? This is a tiny example of a widespread phenomenon. No matter what conservatives espouse, liberals, especially black liberals, are free to call it racist or "insensitive" regardless of the merits. But that's a quibble for another day. For now, I want to congratulate Clinton for doing the right thing, though perhaps not for the right reasons. If Clinton had moved straightaway to Harlem he'd get more credit from me. After all, the guy is doing this only after three crushing weeks of grief in the media. Mark Twain advised, "Always do right; this will gratify some people and astonish the rest." Clearly, that hasn't been Clinton's creed over the course of his career. But he is doing right, right now. I've long believed that if Jackie Kennedy had moved to Harlem rather than Fifth Avenue 40 years ago, Harlem would be in much better shape today. The black middle class wouldn't have fled the crime and poverty that enveloped the once-glorious neighborhood. And Harlem's politics - and perhaps America's - would not have become so racially polarized and divisive. Indeed, by moving into Harlem's Empowerment Zone, Bill Clinton would do more for black Americans at a retail level than he ever did on the wholesale level. For example, a rising economic tide is bad for people who live off of the poverty of others. If Harlem becomes prosperous from Clinton's presence, it's possible that many Harlem blacks will stop seeing their interests reflected in the demagoguery of people like Al Sharpton. It seems Sharpton understands this, too. The zaftig zealot has already sounded a note of racial discord amid all of the cheering. "This could be the ultimate case of gentrification," he told the New York Post. "We allow visitors as long as they know how to behave." Sharpton says he wants "to make sure it's good news for the neighborhood and not just for our new neighbor." One wonders what exactly would happen if Sharpton - who also has offices in Harlem -decided not to "allow" a former president into the neighborhood. Regardless, what a great day. I score on my first foray into ex-presidential advice. Racial healing is advanced, Harlem improves, and Sharpton might get into a Hatfields vs. McCoys feud with Bill Clinton. It just doesn't get any better than this.