The Clinton legacy is black impoverishment—so why are we still voting for Hillary?
–Michelle Alexander, author, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
African-Americans have few reasons to vote for Hillary Clinton. No one understands this better—and says it more forcefully—than Michelle Alexander, civil rights activist, author, and professor of law. She has studied the public life of the Clintons, chronicled their catastrophic impacts on black lives, and observed their self-serving, hypocritical pandering to the African-American community.
The Clintons have always cultivated a warm affection for African-Americans. One iconic image shows Bill riffing on his saxophone for Arsenio Hall. Another pictures Hillary hugging parishioners in black churches. Similar beguiling images appear daily in the media as her presidential campaign progresses.
The affection seems to be mutual. It was apparent in the primary elections across the South, where black voters gave Hillary Clinton overwhelming majorities. But their loyalty is tragically misplaced: the Clintons’ affection is not matched by a serious commitment to relieving the poverty, prejudice, mass incarceration, and second-class citizenry suffered by much of the black community today.
The Clintons’ affection is simply a political expedient. They have relied on the black vote in virtually every election either of them has faced over the past 24 years, but their respective incumbencies have savaged this faithful community.
“From the crime bill to welfare reform, policies Bill Clinton enacted—and Hillary Clinton supported—decimated black America.” Those are Michelle Alexander’s words, accompanying her recent online essay, The Clinton Legacy is Black Impoverishment–So Why Are We Still Voting for Hillary? (The article appeared in print form in the Nation magazine on February 29 under the title, “Black Lives Shattered.”)
The case is compelling for African-Americans to withhold their votes from Hillary Clinton.
Millions of young black men molder in prisons today because the “War on Drugs” is waged disproportionately against black Americans. They serve absurdly long sentences for minor drug offenses, non-violent and victim-free. This is the core of mass incarceration, and millions more are on parole or probation.
Branded as felons, these people will be monstrously handicapped for the rest of their lives. Their criminal records will relegate them to menial, low-paying work; will encourage their return to damaging lifestyles; will impede their access to drug rehabilitation programs, educational benefits, food stamps, and public housing; and in many states will deny them the right to vote. Their lives will indeed be shattered, and the effects will ripple through their families and communities.
The result, nationwide, is the maintenance of a race-based caste system that began with slavery, continued with Jim Crow laws, and is now sustained by mass incarceration.
This is the story Michelle Alexander tells so well in her arresting book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
The Clintons are prominent among the several drivers of mass incarceration. The War on Drugs was undertaken in the Nixon years, deliberately targeting black Americans. Subsequent administrations sustained the effort, militarizing police forces to stiffen it, but when the Clintons took aim at the White House in 1991 The New Jim Crow came into view as the bleak future of black America.
Their careers demonstrate the Clintons sought power, celebrity, and immense wealth, and they achieved all three.
Jumping from Little Rock to Washington would be a big first step, but the Democrats hadn’t won the presidency since the Carter years. So, as chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council in 1991, Bill Clinton helped redesign the party, enabling it to trump the Republicans’ signature issues.
The New Democratic Party, as it came to be known, would outdo the Republicans; it would be tougher on “crime” and “welfare”—and deliberately seek out campaign funding from corporate sources. This transformation was not trivial, and it would be disastrous for America’s working families and communities of color. In fact, the New Democratic Party simply abandoned those constituencies—but never changed its campaign messaging.
Supported by $11.17 million in campaign contributions from Wall Street banks, Mr. Clinton became the first president of the New Democratic Party in 1993. Hillary Clinton was at his side, a de facto minister-without-portfolio. Thus began the couple’s 24-year courtship with Wall Street, to the immense financial benefit of both parties, and it continues to this day.
On taking office Mr. Clinton announced, co-opting the Republicans’ rhetoric as well, “The era of big government is over.”
First he attacked the welfare issue, with The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. It fulfilled Clinton’s promise to “end welfare as we know it,” and the punishing effects it set in motion have yet to abate. Since the end of the Clinton Administration, poverty in the U.S. has nearly doubled: “...the number of Americans living in high-poverty areas rose to 13.8 million in 2013 from 7.2 million in 2000, with African-Americans and Latinos driving most of the gains.”
To show how tough on crime he could be, Clinton next guided The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 through Congress. A flurry of prison construction quickly followed, an industry of private for-profit prisons blossomed, 100,000 new police officers took to the streets, harsh mandatory sentences were prescribed.
When Clinton took office in 1993 the prison population in the U.S. was roughly 855,000. When he left office eight years later it exceeded 2 million. Today it is about 2.25 million, and 4.7 million more citizens are on parole or probation. So our total “Correctional Population” is nearly seven million citizens. Most of them are black, and minor drug offenses are by far the most common. (Terminology and figures from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.)
The welfare and crime laws were passed with Hillary’s support and lobbying efforts. She displayed her enthusiasm indelibly, with her infamous remarks about the “super-predators” and “bringing them to heel.”
In 1996 the Clintons’ romance with Wall Street continued. With $28.37 million from the New York banks supporting his campaign, President Clinton was easily reelected.
The Wall Street benefactors would be nicely rewarded.
The President brought in Mr. Robert Rubin from Goldman Sachs to serve as Treasury Secretary. Mr. Rubin shepherded two laws through Congress, first the Financial Services Modernization Act which repealed the Glass-Steagal legislation of 1933. This allowed the Wall Street banks to buy sub-prime mortgages with savers’ deposits and package them into derivatives called “mortgage-backed securities.” or MBO’s. Next came the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, allowing the banks to sell the MBO’s around the world, without limit, restriction, or regulation, at immense profit. In the frenzy of greed the laws encouraged, fraud was rampant and other laws openly violated.
With its crime and welfare laws, the Clinton Administration impoverished further the already poor and imprisoned millions of them. With its financial laws they further enriched the already rich.
(The Clintons’ own riches accumulated quickly on leaving the White House in 2001. The couple bought a 5-bedroom home in Chappaqua, New York for $1.7 million, and Bill Clinton took to the lecture circuit. Over the next 15 years five Wall Street banks paid him $5,910,000 in speaking fees; other speaking engagements and a consulting business produced about $74 million more. Adding Hillary’s net worth of $45 million puts the couple in the top 1% of American households today by a factor of 16 [the threshold is $7.88 million].)
Virtually a founding member of the New Democratic Party, Hillary undertook her own political career, running for the Senate in 2000. Helped nicely along with $2.13 million in Wall Street contributions, she won easily. She won again in 2006, this time with $6.02 million from the New York banks.
During Hillary Clinton’s eight years in the Senate, three institutional bubbles inflated and grew to alarming size: the number of families living in poverty, the incarcerated population, and Wall Street’s global selling of its fraudulent mortgage-backed-securities. All three were products of the Clintons’ years in the White House.
The bursting of the housing bubble traumatized the nation’s economy, and the burden of lost jobs, home foreclosures, and diminished family wealth fell most heavily on black Americans. The distress imposed on them by the crime and welfare bills intensified.
Senator Clinton’s warm affection for them, however, is not evident in her record as a legislator. Only three of the bills she introduced were made into law, none of them of benefit to African-Americans: one established a National Historic Site in Troy, NY; one titled a post office after a local Army officer; and a final one gave Tim Russert’s name to a portion of a highway, US Route 20A.
She did, however, vote for the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008—the “Troubled Asset Relief Program” allocating $700 billion of taxpayers money to rescue the shaky Wall Street banks. The day after the vote she spoke over a New York radio station, saying, “I think the banks of New York…are probably the biggest winners in this.”
Then in 2008, with $14.61 million in Wall Street campaign contributions, she declared her first candidacy for President. In the New Democratic Party primaries she faced Barack Obama, who himself was favored with Wall Street contributions totaling $3.7 million.
The New York banks have prospered with the New Democratic Party, and they’ve seen fit to support Hillary Clinton’s second candidacy, this time even more generously: so far she has accepted $21.42 million from them.
The Clintons are unmatched as masterful presidential campaigners. No one has more experience. They’ve undertaken four presidential campaigns, something not seen since FDR.
The Clintons sense and define the popular issues of the day with uncanny accuracy, and then hire genius media people to craft online content and communicated messages accordingly. Hillary’s website, therefore, elevates hypocrisy to an art form: it promises solutions to distressing institutional conditions, two of which are precisely the conditions created by laws the Clinton Administration sponsored.
Verbatim from the website:
Wall Street reform: “The financial crisis showed how irresponsible behavior in the financial sector can devastate the lives of everyday Americans…..Hillary has a plan to reduce the risk of future crises and make our financial system fairer and more accountable.”
Criminal justice reform: “Hillary believes our criminal justice system is out of balance. In her first major speech of the campaign, she said we have to come to terms with some hard truths about race and justice in America and called for an end to the “era of mass incarceration.”
With hundreds of millions of dollars in her super-pacs from Wall Street, from the pharmaceutical industry, from the fossil fuel producers, and other corporate interests her website addresses “Campaign finance reform” as follows:
“We have to end the flood of secret, unaccountable money that is distorting our elections, corrupting our political system, and drowning the voices of too many everyday Americans. Our democracy should be about expanding the franchise, not charging an entry fee.”
Hillary’s campaign is a cruel facade’, a diametric contradiction of history—of the Clintons’ public-policy initiatives and the financing of their candidacies.
But it is superbly effective particularly, as Michelle Alexander laments, among the African-Americans who have been so brilliantly deceived. And among the millions of others who have been deceived as well.
Wall Street is not deceived, though.
Hillary’s website threatens “Wall Street reform,” noting the banks’ “irresponsible behavior.”
And addressing the Wall Street debacle, she has said, “I’m going after them. I’m going to jail them if they should be jailed. I’m going to break them up.” This is tough talk, aligning perfectly with Americans’ contemporary anger over Wall Street’s crimes; it is first rate campaigning.
Is Wall Street apprehensive?
Not at all. An online CNN Money report says simply, “Wall Street isn’t worried about Hillary Clinton’s plan.” Another quotes author William Cohan: “The big bankers love Clinton, and by and large they want her to be president…among them Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman…JPMorgan Chase…Bank of America…They dismiss it quickly [the threat of reform] as political maneuvers.”
Yes, you say what you need to say to get elected. The bankers understand this and the black community needs to. Hillary Clinton is no more likely to end mass incarceration than she is to put Lloyd Blankfein in prison.
Both Bill and Hillary Clinton possess the remarkable talent of professional performers to assume a convincing stage persona—in the Clintons’ case here a campaign persona—totally distinct from who they are in reality. A role to be played, a script to memorize.
The Clintons’ campaign personas are as carefully crafted, and the scripts as carefully written, as the content of the website.
We see the campaign personas when Hillary is hugging black parishioners or Bill is playing his saxophone. We see them in the debates. We seem them in the fundraisers. We see them in the rallies.
Two recent episodes along the campaign trail illustrate the Clintons’ duplicity, however. And they also show a few African-Americans are breaking through the curtain of deception.
Hillary held a $500-per-person fundraiser in Charleston, S.C. on February 24. A young woman named Ashley Williams, a Black Lives Matter activist, paid the $500 to attend. As Hillary addressed the campaign issues— reciting her script—Ms. Williams held up a banner for the audience to see. It said, We have to bring them to heel. Then she turned the banner toward Hillary.
In the parlance of the acting profession, Hillary broke character. Her campaign persona collapsed, and so did Hillary Clinton’s storied affection for African-Americans. She shouted over Ms. Williams with caustic, condescending sarcasm. Finally she asked the young woman testily, “Do you want to hear the facts or do you just want to talk?” Then, when Ms. Williams was forcibly ejected from the room, Hillary turned to her benefactors and said, “OK, back to the issues that I think are important.” She regained her campaign persona and her fawning donors, white southerners, applauded.
At a rally for Hillary in Philadelphia on April 6, Bill Clinton matched the truth of his wife’s disdain. He too was reciting his script, displaying his campaign persona, when several Black Lives Matter protestors held up placards. One said, Clinton Crime Bill Destroyed Our Communities, another, Black Youth Are Not Super Predators. Bill also broke character. His campaign persona disappeared and for 11 minutes the real Bill Clinton alternately ridiculed the protestors and applauded the stellar achievements of his years in the White House.
For 24 years the Clintons have enjoyed the unwavering political support of black Americans. During this time the couple also enjoyed immense financial support from Wall Street banks, in total some $83.72 million in contributions to their six campaigns.
Today the New York banks are larger and more prosperous than ever. Their executives enjoy stratospheric salaries and bonuses and none of them has served prison time for their documented crimes.
Black America, on the other hand, has been brought to heel by The New Jim Crow. Millions of young men, hardly super-predators, serve prison terms of decades for trivial drug offenses. Black communities have been impoverished.
We have come to this dichotomy since the Clintons arrived on the national stage in 1992. They bear much responsibility for it.
But now Hillary Clinton seeks the presidency, and she is depending on her traditional sources of support. Wall Street’s ongoing financing of her campaign is not difficult to understand, but the continuing willingness of African-Americans to give her their votes is a paradox unmatched in memory.
Perhaps that willingness is dissipating. The young people of Black Lives Matter are shouting that it should. And two-thirds of American voters, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll, find Hillary Clinton “not honest and trustworthy.”
Yes, both Hillary and Bill Clinton have expressed a degree of dismay about the crime and welfare bills, and she has apologized about her choice of words—the bringing-to-heel phrase. But their remorse emerged only after Hillary’s campaign was underway. You say what you need to say to get elected.