For those too young to remember, Bill Clinton created the eponymous "Sista Souljah moment" when he criticized the rapper and political activist in June 1992 for some intemperate comments she had made about race relations in the U.S. (Those comments were made in the context of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, which in turn were sparked when four white police officers -- who had been captured on videotape administering a savage beating to African-American Rodney King -- were acquitted of wrongdoing.)
Clinton's criticism of Sista Souljah, previously seen as a fellow traveler of the perceived-to-be (but not really) liberal Bill Clinton, earned him some backlash from Jesse Jackson and other black Democratic activists but it solidified his position among more moderate, white Democrats and helped make him more palatable to independents and Republicans. After Clinton won the 1992 election with a plurality, political pundits and observers came to think of his "Sista Souljah moment" as a very canny piece of electioneering. Ever since, having a "Sista Souljah moment" has become almost a rite of passage for high-profile Democratic politicians.
I'm wondering, now, if this is what President Obama thinks he is doing by putting potential Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid cuts on the table in these debt ceiling negotiations. Maybe he thinks that by "standing up to the liberals" in his party -- you know, the people who still believe The New Deal is a good deal -- he will gain some mainstream credibility going into 2012.
I certainly hope not. The thing about Clinton's Sista Souljah moment is that when he did it -- and this is important -- Clinton wasn't doing anything substantive. Criticizing a hip-hop DJ for a few fiery sentences is not the same thing as cutting benefits for seniors and the poor. It was a piece of political theater meant to ally concerns by the more racially apprehensive members of society -- it cost Clinton nothing.
But cutting entitlements is going to cost Obama plenty. If you thought Democrats didn't show up to vote in 2010, see how many show up to vote after Obama and the Congressional Dems eviscerate the programs liberal voters care most about. I really hope Obama truly is as smart as his backers claim and that this is just more 11th-Dimensional chess and a feint and a ploy and that he is not serious. Because God help him -- God help us all -- if he is.