Politics
Analysis

Past Clinton drama: It's why one black pastor wants Hillary Clinton to be president

Hillary Clinton has a firm hold on African American voters, and her visits to black churches on Sunday explained why.

There’s her husband, Bill, or “our beloved past president” as one pastor referred to him.

There’s President Obama, who Clinton served and repeatedly expressed pride in to raucous applause from the congregations.

And there is also the drama that the Clintons represent.

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Voters and Clinton opponents will roll their eyes at the soap opera that the Clinton White House became in the 1990s: the presidential affair with an intern, that cold walk across the South Lawn with their daughter in the middle like a human demilitarized zone, the impeachment proceedings stemming from questions Bill Clinton received about another alleged dalliance.

But in a black church on Sunday, one pastor said all that was precisely why she was hoping Hillary Clinton would be the next president.

At Holy Ghost Cathedral, a cathedral only in the spiritual sense of the word, a casual church set in a neighborhood of burnt-out, boarded-up wrecks occupied by people who freeze each winter because of the missing windows, Bishop Corletta J. Vaughn greeted Clinton with an allusion to President Clinton’s behavior and the public face that his wife put on it.

Hillary Clinton, she said, showed women how to "take a licking and keep on ticking‎.”

“I’m talking [about Clinton] as a wife and a mother. She taught so many of us as women how to stand in the face of adversity."

Clinton, who rose to speak later, said she appreciated Vaughn’s reference to a difficult time.

“What has always guided me and supported me has been my faith, has been my belief in the saving graces and the salvation that faith brings," said Clinton, a life-long Methodist. "And in those difficult times in my life I have often been struck by a particular passage from Scripture and interpretation or analysis of Scripture."

She told the story of the prodigal son, played in this incarnation by the former president of the United States.

The prodigal son in the Bible, she said, had "been out there having a pretty good time committing every sin that you could list."

"When someone has disappointed you, has often disappointed themselves, it is human nature to say you’re not wanted, we know what you’ve been doing.... Go sleep in the bed you made," she said. "But this isn’t what the father did in this parable."

What he did, she reminded the congregants, was put on his finest clothes, have the finest meal cooked up, and meet his son with an embrace.

Clinton said she took from that parable the need to "practice the discipline of gratitude every day."

"There is much to be grateful for even when it doesn’t feel or look like it," she said.

She noted that the prodigal son parable "is also about our Father in heaven who is always ready to take us back… who gave his only begotten son for us. So practicing the discipline of gratitude is one of the ways we understand more what is expected of us."

Black voters who sided overwhelmingly with Clinton in South Carolina and other Southern states lifted her campaign from its early-state doldrums. They stand ready to do the same on Tuesday, in Michigan, and in states voting March 15. An NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll released Sunday showed Clinton defeating Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders among black voters in Michigan by 55 points.

At each of the three black churches she visited Sunday, Clinton used Detroit and Michigan as metaphors for rebuilding, and Flint, where a Democratic debate will be held Sunday night, as a metaphor for crises she hopes to help solve as president.

"I have said we don’t have to work to make America great; America never stopped being great," she said in a ding at Republican candidate Donald Trump’s slogan. "We have to work to make America whole and there is a lot of work to be done, my friends."

She said that pipes — and lives — needed to be fixed in Flint, where the water supply has been poisoned by lead.

"I, my husband, my daughter, we will stay with you and do everything we can to fix these problems that you are experiencing," she said. She also vowed to help rescue the Detroit schools, where, she noted at each stop, small children attend schools filled with mold and rodents.

She did not talk at all about her Democratic opponent Bernie Sanders, who Saturday night offered a tart denunciation of Clinton. She appeared focused on Tuesday’s election, yes, but also on the general election campaign she hopes to wage as the party's nominee.

"I will not descend to the level of bullying and bombast and bigotry that we are seeing on the other side," she said. "I will try to run a campaign that is worth of the nation."

cathleen.decker@latimes.com

For political news and analysis, follow me on Twitter: @cathleendecker . For more on politics, go to latimes.com/decker.

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