From The Nation:
From the crime bill to welfare reform, policies Bill Clinton enacted—and Hillary Clinton supported—decimated black America.
By Michelle Alexander | Wednesday, February 10, 2016 | 6:00 AM
Hillary Clinton loves black people. And black people love Hillary—or so it seems. Black politicians have lined up in droves to endorse her, eager to prove their loyalty to the Clintons in the hopes that their faithfulness will be remembered and rewarded. Black pastors are opening their church doors, and the Clintons are making themselves comfortably at home once again, engaging effortlessly in all the usual rituals associated with “courting the black vote,” a pursuit that typically begins and ends with Democratic politicians making black people feel liked and taken seriously. Doing something concrete to improve the conditions under which most black people live is generally not required.
Hillary is looking to gain momentum on the campaign trail as the primaries move out of Iowa and New Hampshire and into states like South Carolina, where large pockets of black voters can be found. According to some polls, she leads Bernie Sanders by as much as 60 percent among African Americans. It seems that we—black people—are her winning card, one that Hillary is eager to play.
And it seems we’re eager to get played. Again.
The love affair between black folks and the Clintons has been going on for a long time. It began back in 1992, when Bill Clinton was running for president. He threw on some shades and played the saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show. It seems silly in retrospect, but many of us fell for that. At a time when a popular slogan was “It’s a black thing, you wouldn’t understand,” Bill Clinton seemed to get us. When Toni Morrison dubbed him our first black president, we nodded our heads. We had our boy in the White House. Or at least we thought we did.
Black voters have been remarkably loyal to the Clintons for more than 25 years. It’s true that we eventually lined up behind Barack Obama in 2008, but it’s a measure of the Clinton allure that Hillary led Obama among black voters until he started winning caucuses and primaries. Now Hillary is running again. This time she’s facing a democratic socialist who promises a political revolution that will bring universal healthcare, a living wage, an end to rampant Wall Street greed, and the dismantling of the vast prison state—many of the same goals that Martin Luther King Jr. championed at the end of his life. Even so, black folks are sticking with the Clinton brand.
What have the Clintons done to earn such devotion? Did they take extreme political risks to defend the rights of African Americans? Did they courageously stand up to right-wing demagoguery about black communities? Did they help usher in a new era of hope and prosperity for neighborhoods devastated by deindustrialization, globalization, and the disappearance of work?
No. Quite the opposite.
Naturally, my respect for copyright laws leads me to republish only the introductory teaser for Mrs Alexander’s article; you can follow the link embedded in the title to read her original. But I can summarize her main points of objection, all of which are based not on what Hillary Clinton has done, but on what her husband did, as President, which Mrs Clinton supported at the time:
- In 1994, President Clinton championed a federal crime bill, which increased federal prison sentences, and added a ‘three strikes’ provision. Because the then-First Lady was redefining the ‘job description,’ and was actively involved in President Clinton’s administration, Mrs Alexander believes that she should be held responsible for what was done during her husband’s tenure.
- Mrs Alexander claims that the jobless rates for black men in their twenties skyrocketed during the Clinton Administration, but that the numbers were hidden because the employment statistics exclude the incarcerated; she claims that the true unemployment rate for black males in their twenties, without college degrees, was 42%.
- The Welfare Reform Act of 1996 — which President Clinton twice vetoed, before signing a third version in the run-up to his 1996 re-election campaign — “ replaced the federal safety net with a block grant to the states, imposed a five-year lifetime limit on welfare assistance, added work requirements, barred undocumented immigrants from licensed professions, and slashed overall public welfare funding by $54 billion (some was later restored).”
Mrs Alexander’s article does not endorse Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, and points out W E B DuBois’ refusal to vote in the 1956 election, saying, “there is but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I do or say.” If Mrs Alexander wishes to urge black Americans to choose not to vote, I have no problem with that at all; it was the monolithic nature of the black vote in this country which has given us the disaster which is the Obama Administration! Mrs Alexander has some kinder words for the socialist from Vermont, but excoriates him for his affirmative vote on the crime bill. Mrs Alexander was very upset that Senator Sanders’ dismissed the notion of ‘reparations’ as ‘divisive,’ “as though centuries of slavery, segregation, discrimination, ghettoization, and stigmatization aren’t worthy of any specific acknowledgement or remedy.”
Mrs Alexander’s real problem is with the notion that black Americans ought to be held to the same standards as anyone else, that if a black person commits a crime, he ought to be held responsible for it. If black Americans committed crimes at roughly the same rates as other citizens, perhaps she’d have no problem with that notion, but because black males do break the laws at far greater rates, her problem is that they are imprisoned at rates in response to that criminality rather than asking why they are committing those crimes. After all, to ask why someone does something he knows is wrong, that he knows is illegal, would be to do something really radical like holding the individual responsible for his own actions.
I hope that Mrs Alexander gets her way, and black voters desert Mrs Clinton and her campaign. It isn’t that I approve of Senator Sanders and his campaign: he is an admitted socialist, whose policies, if ever enacted, would be an utter disaster for the United States and the world at large. But of the two
Socialist Democratic candidates, at least Mr Sanders is honest about what he believes and appears to be an honest man personally; Mrs Clinton is one of the most dishonest public figures around, a liar, a cheat, and a criminal. As President, while we would have to fight Mr Sanders’ policies every day, we still wouldn’t be absolutely embarrassed to have him as our elected leader. Were Mrs Clinton ever to become President, the United States would deserve the utter humiliation that electing such a terrible person would bring.¹
Have the crime bill and welfare reform decimated black America, as Mrs Alexander stated in her subtitle? No: black America has been ‘decimated’ by its own community’s actions and culture. The crime bill doesn’t hurt anyone who actually obeys the law, and welfare reform — which has been sadly abandoned — doesn’t hurt anyone who actually tries to do the right thing and work for a living. You see, I grew up poor as well, very poor, but I managed to become not poor, because my mother² instilled in me the only lessons which really mattered: it doesn’t matter how poor you are or from what circumstances you started, you get out of bed every morning and go to work, and you live your life honestly.
¹ – I have previously stated that the only way I would ever vote for Donald Trump if he is the Republican nominee is if Pennsylvania was actually in play, and my vote was needed to keep Hillary Clinton from winning the election. If the Democrats nominate Senator Sanders instead, I will vote third party, period, rather than voting for Mr Trump.
² – My father chose to leave and not be involved.
Cross-posted on The First Street Journal.