In a throwback to a contentious 2008 election fraught with racial innuendo, these words passed Bill Clinton’s lips while he was campaigning for his wife in Memphis, Tennessee speaking to 650 people in a high school gym on Thursday:
“The other thing I want to make a funny comment about is, (Rep.) Steve Cohen’s remark that I was just a stand-in for the first Black president. I’m happy to do that, but you know what else we learned from the human genome? We learned that unless your ancestors, every one of you, are 100 percent, 100 percent from sub-Saharan Africa, we are all mixed-race people,”
This, a mere three days after the world almost came to an end last week when Meryl Streep said this:
“There is a core of humanity that travels right through every culture, and after all, we’re all from Africa originally. You know, we’re all Berliners. We’re all Africans, really.”
Clinton’s statement is no less inappropriate than Streep’s. Given the Clintons’ track record from 2008 alone, Bill should have refrained from making such statements. The Clintons’ level of comfort with their status is such that they seem to feel no need to curb their neoliberal swagger at this stage in the game.
Both Clintons, when speaking, always try and give the impression that they have a deep understanding of what constitutes what they call “racial inequities.” But when you scratch the surface, neither really demonstrates a deep understanding or agreement that, in this nation, race, gender, and class all conspire together to divide and conquer. Maybe what the Clintons have often done when engaging in what seems highly inappropriate talk is subconscious bias. But when you look at what Bill Clinton’s presidency produced, the Welfare Act and his Crime bill, both fraught with racial language, you cannot help but wonder what each Clinton has learned in the decades since. You cannot help but wonder what Hillary Clinton has learned since 2008. This campaign certainly has taken on much of the desperate tone and underhandedness of her last run.
At a rally in suburban Las Vegas, Nevada, Clinton is reported to have said:
“Not everything is about an economic theory, right? If we broke up the big banks tomorrow — and I will, if they deserve it, if they pose a systemic risk, I will — would that end racism?
“Would that end sexism?”
“Would that end discrimination against the LGBT community?”
“Would that make people feel more welcoming to immigrants overnight?”
“Would that solve our problem with voting rights, and Republicans who are trying to strip them away from people of color, the elderly, and the young?”
“Would that give us a real shot at ensuring our political system works better because we get rid of gerrymandering and redistricting and all of these gimmicks Republicans use to give themselves safe seats, so they can undo the progress we have made?”
What Hillary calls “economic theory” is little more than a thinly veiled dig at Sanders’ planned reforms of Wall Street, healthcare, education, the revitalization of impoverished areas of cities like Baltimore, and other vital economic themes. No, Sanders’ plans for Big Banks would not fix those things, but the plan is part of a larger whole that attacks the entrenched economic discrimination against Blacks, Black women in particular, and other minorities. Resetting the core of the banking systems throughout of the US would go a very long way towards rebuilding the badly damaged middle class.
Looking back to the economic policy, not theory, that Clinton advocated for when her husband was president, we find that it decimated African American and poor families in the two decades that followed, and several years after the start of the Great Recession, those policies are coming home to roost and affecting a far wider cross section of the US population, Clinton also likes to remind audiences, in every speech, that she is proud of her work at the Children’s Defense Fund. But her old boss, however, has some strong words of caution on that:
“For the sake of looking tough on “welfare queens,” Bill and Hillary (and they were indeed a team) sacrificed the well-being of millions, forced single mothers into underpaid, underinsured work and added further strain to many families. “
The waiver to the food assistance portion of Bill Clinton’s Welfare Reform is expiring this year and the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities reported that as many as 500,000 single, childless people, mostly women, older women and women of color, will lose their ability to receive food assistance. When adding families who will no longer qualify, other outlets estimate that number will be closer to one million, if they don’t find jobs. This is a direct result of the work requirements of the 1996 Welfare Act.
As Sanders points out at every speech, Wall Street and corporate greed are what has decimated the middle class in general, the Black middle class in particular, and 51% of young Blacks are condemned to a life of poverty.
So far, we’ve seen attempts by the Clinton campaign to discredit Sanders on healthcare, unrealistic policies, and now on the alleged single-mindedness of his campaign. This new tack of Clinton’s is starting to appear in her stump speeches, and will probably soon to be pushed by the top pundits. This line of attack originates with a new anti-Sanders ad:
Yet, in the following clip from the PBS debate, Clinton demolishes her own argument about Sanders being a one-trick pony and solidifies her already solid reputation for being completely tone-deaf to the needs of Black families when it comes to making all of the connections that make up institutional racism. Here, when asked by Judy Woodruff how she would achieve what President Obama hasn’t been able to with respect to race relations, what is the first connection Clinton makes? Watch:
Clinton begins her answer by saying that “the Affordable Care Act has helped more African Americans than any other group.” Well, if that is the case, economic theory, and healthcare policy is certainly a part of it, as a tack pursued by Bernie Sanders, is perfectly aligned with the wishes of the electorate. But there is another implication that arises from this statement from Clinton and it is that she ties what Sanders views as a universal human right, healthcare, to racial justice. There is something profoundly broken about the way she ties that into an answer on racism.
The second part of Clinton’s answer is the most surprising. Without specifically connecting class to race and police brutality, she starts out well enough by pointing out the good that cell phones and social media have done in publicizing police brutality (though she uses the more generic term, “the remaining dark side of systemic racism.” But then, she said this:
“I think President Obama has set a great example. I think he has addressed a lot of these issues that have been quite difficult, but he has gone forward. Now, what we have to do is to build on an honest conversation about where we go next. We now have much more information about what must be done to fix our criminal justice system. We now have some good models about how to better provide employment, about housing and education. So, I think what President Obama did was to exemplify the importance of this issue as our first African American president and to address it, both from the president’s office and through his advocacy, such as working with young men and Mrs. Obama’s work with young women. But we can’t rest, we have work to do. And we now know a lot more than we did before. So, it’s going to be my responsibility to make sure we move forward to resolve these problems that are now out in the open, nobody can deny them, to use the Justice Department, as we just saw, where they have said they’re going to sue Ferguson”
This fundamentally exposes the gulf between Sanders and Clinton in depth of understanding of the magnitude of the problem called “institutional racism,” what has been done to date to deal with it, and what the next president needs to do. This also vividly highlights the reason why movements such as Black Lives Matter have risen. BLM neither rose as issues were being addressed, nor were candidates confronted as a direct result. The perception gap between Mrs. Clinton and Black millennials is a yawning gulf. One only need put one’s ear to the live rail of social media to realize its extent.
“If it may be said of the slavery era that the white man took the world and gave the Negro Jesus, then it may be said of the Reconstruction era that the southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow. (Yes, sir) He gave him Jim Crow. (Uh huh) And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, (Yes, sir) he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than the black man. (Right sir) And he ate Jim Crow. (Uh huh) And when his undernourished children cried out for the necessities that his low wages could not provide, he showed them the Jim Crow signs on the buses and in the stores, on the streets and in the public buildings. (Yes, sir) And his children, too, learned to feed upon Jim Crow, (Speak) their last outpost of psychological oblivion. (Yes, sir)”
“To meet this threat, the southern aristocracy began immediately to engineer this development of a segregated society. (Right) I want you to follow me through here because this is very important to see the roots of racism and the denial of the right to vote. Through their control of mass media, they revised the doctrine of white supremacy. They saturated the thinking of the poor white masses with it, (Yes) thus clouding their minds to the real issue involved in the Populist Movement. They then directed the placement on the books of the South of laws that made it a crime for Negroes and whites to come together as equals at any level. (Yes, sir) And that did it. That crippled and eventually destroyed the Populist Movement of the nineteenth century.”
Martin Luther King, 1965, Selma
Former head of the NAACP, Ben Jealous, in an interview with Chris Hayes of MNSBC, outlines the connection between Clinton’s pro-death penalty stance and her overall liberal commitment to criminal and racial justice.
To further quantify the tone-deafness of her answer one must examine Clinton’s own assessment of the place of racism in the Obama presidency. Her lack of understanding manifested itself most obviously in this answer she gave at a 2014 CNN town hall:
There used to be a complete clip of this portion of the CNN town hall that Mediaite posted. It was mysteriously removed by Mediaite shortly before Secretary Clinton entered the Democratic primary. When I first wrote about this town hall, I included a transcript. What is missing from this clip is this answer to Amanpour by Clinton that is cut off:
AMANPOUR: “Do you think some of that is latent racism, vestiges of racism, as some people have said?”
CLINTON: “Well, I know that — I don’t want to — I don’t want to say that I verify that, because that would be generalizing too broadly. I believe that there are people who have trouble with ethnicity, with race, with gender, with sexual orientation, you name it. And therefore, they are not developing a reasoned opinion — even if it’s an opinion in opposition, but they are a reacting to not a visceral stereotypical basis. And that’s unfortunate.”
Anyone who, in 2014, still didn’t see the blatant racism of Republicans against President Obama is either tone deaf or racist. But this tone-deafness is long-standing and it spills over to her worldview of foreign affairs. It explains her longtime affinity and friendship with the likes of Henry Kissinger and some of the awful statements she made during and after the Iraq war debate. Talking about the Iraqi people as a source of profit is truly cringe-worthy.
People who write about the Clintons often mention their entitled attitude. There is certainly a lot of video footage of it. This election cycle, the spate of faux-pas and instances of entitled behaviors hasn’t slowed. From Clinton’s logo that has raised eyebrows for its eerie similarity to Barry Goldwater’s arrow to the nasty whisper campaigns that include attempts to impugn Sanders’ civil rights record, all are adding up to a redux of campaign 2008 nastiness.
Bill and Hillary are both smarter than that and incapable of helping themselves, again. This time, the stakes are much higher for a greater number of Americans. Sanders’ rise is no accident. Hillary still isn’t ready. It could very well be that she never was meant to be.
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