Bernie Sanders’ 1994 Crime Bill Vote And Media’s False Equivalencies | #WhichHillary on Blog#42

So, Hillary Clinton has another very awkward encounter with Black Lives Matter, and some attempt to equate her 1994 involvement promoting the Crime Bill with Bernie Sanders’ vote. In the interest of fairness, I would like to examine the equivalence of the two.

First, let’s watch then Congressman Bernie Sanders express his misgivings about the legislation on the House floor:

[Congressional Record Volume 140, Number 39 (Wednesday, April 13, 1994)]

Mr. Speaker, let me begin with a profound remark: Two plus two equals four.

In other words, there is a logical and rational process called cause and effect. In terms of Newtonian physics, that means that every action causes an equal and opposite reaction. In other words, Mr. Speaker, there are reasons why things happen, as controversial as that statement may be.

A farmer neglects to tend and care for his fields—it is likely that the crop will fail.

A company neglects to invest in research and development—it is likely that the company will not be profitable.

In a similar way, Mr. Speaker, a society which neglects, which oppresses and which disdains a very significant part of its population—which leaves them hungry, impoverished, unemployed, uneducated, and utterly without hope, will, through cause and effect, create a population which is bitter, which is angry, which is violent, and a society which is crime-ridden. This is the case in America, and it is the case in countries throughout the world.

Mr. Speaker, how do we talk about the very serious crime problem in America without mentioning that we have the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world, by far, with 22 percent of our children in poverty and 5 million who are hungry today? Do the Members think maybe that might have some relationship to crime? How do we talk about crime when this Congress is prepared, this year, to spend 11 times more for the military than for education; when 21 percent of our kids drop out of high school; when a recent study told us that twice as many young workers now earn poverty wages as 10 years ago; when the gap between the rich and the poor is wider, and when the rate of poverty continues to grow? Do the members think that might have some relationship to crime?

Mr. Speaker, it is my firm belief that clearly, there are some people in our society who are horribly violent, who are deeply sick and sociopathic, and clearly these people must be put behind bars in order to protect society from them. But it is also my view that through the neglect of our Government and through a grossly irrational set of priorities, we are dooming tens of millions of young people to a future of bitterness, misery, hopelessness, drugs, crime, and violence. And Mr. Speaker, all the jails in the world, and we already imprison more people per capita than any other country, and all of the executions in the world, will not make that situation right. We can either educate or electrocute. We can create meaningful jobs, rebuilding our society, or we can build more jails. Mr. Speaker, let us create a society of hope and compassion, not one of hate and vengeance.

There is not one epithet, disparaging phrase, accusation or victim-blaming or shaming in this speech that requires an apology from Senator Sanders decades later. In fact, if anything, one can easily say that as he expressed his concerns, he predicted mass-incarceration and explained, quite vividly, the kind of retributive justice the bill reflected and what would result from that legislation. But to go back to the issue of needing to apologize for having said something that is so offensive as to be a racial slur, Senator Sanders has never been accused of making one. Secretary Clinton, on the other hand, has, more than once.

So, why, exactly, did Sanders vote for the 1994 Violent Crime Control And Law Enforcement Act? The answer comes from this page on the FeelTheBern website:

If Bernie was so against this bill, why did he vote for it?

Bernie admitted that “this is not a perfect bill”, but he understood that certain parts of the bill were tremendously important. In particular, Bernie was passionate about passing the Violence Against Women Act, one of the key provisions of the Crime Bill. Bernie said at the time, “I have a number of serious problems with the Crime Bill, but one part of it that I vigorously support is the Violence Against Women Act. We urgently need the $1.8 billion in this bill to combat the epidemic of violence against women on the streets and in the homes of America.”

If anyone needs reminding, women of color represent, to this day, a disproportional segment of this population.  Another reminder worth repeating, even for 1994, this was a feminist measure.

In an interview she gave today, Secretary Clinton explained that she would never say such a thing today. Wouldn’t it have been nice if she’d had the presence of mind and placement of heart to say just that to Ashley Williams yesterday? There would have been no need to give an interview to a friendly columnist, or express any regret about regrettable behavior in the plural, or make despicable attempts at tying Sanders to Clinton in a “they were both wrong” kind of way. It is dishonest and it just doesn’t fly. Sanders, however one disagrees with him on policy matters, when it comes to humanity and propriety, he just isn’t a crass kind of guy.

In a world where no one has 20/20 hindsight, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton don’t have the same moral standing.