By William K. Black
April 8, 2016 Bloomington, MN
(Crossposted from Huffington Post. Postscript added for NEP)
Remember several weeks ago when Hillary Clinton was complaining that Democrats did not consider her a “progressive?” Bernie Sanders’ big win in Wisconsin ended that tactic and propelled Paul Krugman and Hillary and Bill Clinton to race to the right, inadvertently proving Bernie’s point that they are not progressives on the key issues.
In the last week, Hillary and her surrogates have pivoted hard right and retreated to their long-held positions on the major issues. Indeed, in several cases they have gone even farther to the right than the policies they pushed over a decade ago – even though those policies proved disastrous. They also inadvertently demonstrated the terrible policies that were produced by the Clinton’s vaunted “pragmatism” and compromising with the most extreme Republican demands. That was the story of Clinton’s infamous welfare “reform” – a policy both Clintons championed. Tom Frank details in his new book entitled Listen, Liberal how the Clintons’ “pragmatism” and zeal to work with the worst elements of the Republican Party led to the welfare “reform” bill. Zach Carter has just written the article I was planning to write about that travesty. He entitled it “Nothing Bill Clinton Said To Defend His Welfare Reform Is True.” I encourage you to read it.
As a criminologist (I am also an adviser to Bernie on economics), I will begin my two-part series on Hillary’s race to the right with Bill Clinton’s effort to defend his drug law policies and Hillary’s denunciation of black drug users as “super predators.” The second column explains Krugman’s race to the right on banking in his effort to support Hillary’s harp pivot to right.
Bill’s defense of his policies that helped feed the mass incarceration of blacks and Latinos for drug offense came in the same April 7, 2016 campaign speech in Philadelphia that led to Zach Carter skewering his defense of welfare “reform.” Bill’s speech was strongly protested by Black Lives Matter members, which led to unscripted, angry attacks by Bill on some of the protesters and prompted his defense of his crime bill and Hillary’s attack on “superpredators.”
Bill made four key points about crime in his attempted defense and attacks on the protesters. First he claimed that his 1993 crime bill led to a huge decrease in crime. The reality is that street crimes were declining before his bill and the trend continued after the bill passed. (Elite financial crimes were surging due to the Clinton’s championing of the three “de’s” – deregulation, desupervision and de facto decriminalization of finance – but the Clintons and the authors creating and spreading the myth of the black and Latino “superpredators” ignored them.)
Second, Bill claimed that the bad parts of his crime bill were caused by Republican demands. Tom Frank’s book shows how the Clintons’ “pragmatism” and promises to work with the hard right led to him crafting a bill that produced the mass incarceration of Americans. This problem was compounded by his sentencing provision that punished crack cocaine users 100 times more severely (by weight) than powder cocaine users. When the bill was drafted it seems likely that the drafters did not know that crack cocaine was used overwhelmingly by blacks and Latinos and powder cocaine overwhelmingly by whites. A wide range of people eagerly created what social scientists call a “moral panic” about crack cocaine even though its effects were the same of powder. Bill’s crime bill achieved bipartisan support, including Bernie.
What Bill did not discuss, but what Tom Frank’s book emphasizes, is that the immense racial disparity in sentencing – and the lack of any basis for it given the chemical equivalency of crack and powder – became clear within a year after passage of the act. By 1995, the U.S. Sentencing Commission had gathered the data, conducted the analysis, and done all the drafting to repeal the disparity – and Bill and the Republican Congress promptly worked pragmatically and in a bipartisan manner to block the repeal of the racist sentencing disparity. After he left office, Bill repeatedly apologized for his Crime Act, but a few days ago in Philadelphia he reverted to praising his disastrous law. He is moving exceptionally hard right back to his natural instincts when he gets off script.
Third, Bill moved so far right that he resurrected a racist position Hillary had enunciated (and later repudiated). Hillary attacked blacks who used crack as “super predators.” That phrase was crafted as part of the effort to generate a moral panic in order to produce the mass incarceration of blacks. CNN reported on Hillary’s use of the term.
“They are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘super predators,'” Clinton said in a 1996 speech, when crime was a major public concern, according to polls at the time. “No conscience, no empathy, we can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.”
Hillary was quoting phrases from three ultra-right authors that were Reagan officials. None of them was a criminologist, yet they claimed that overwhelmingly black “super predators” were growing at such epic rates that we should be so terrified by them that we would support a full scale “war” against black and Latino drug users. They did not simply coin the term “super predator” and stress that they were primarily black – they called them “feral.” That is the word used for a once tame animal that reverts to a wild animal. Black crack users were demonized as subhuman – wild animals whose ancestors had once been tame (as slaves) and who, as Hillary demanded, must be brought “to heel” like trained dogs.
None of this was true, but the racist lies succeeded in creating the moral panic that caused enormous damage to our Nation. Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness is an excellent treatment of the shameful result.
Hillary eventually (in 2016) recanted her adoption of the racist “super predator” phrase and meme. Bill is disinterring it now because he got flustered and angered by the Black Lives Matter protesters and reverted in an unscripted fit to what came reflexively.
Fourth, Bill attacked the Black Lives Matter protesters in a way that was unworthy of him. Indeed, his attack on them came directly from his bizarre effort to support Hillary’s use of the term “super predator” months after she had repudiated that term. Bill invoked the same racist myths, using the same racist language that was employed over a decade ago even though they have been completely discredited by criminologists. CNN’s report of his Philadelphia speech notes:
He also defended Hillary Clinton’s use of the phrase “super predators.”
“I don’t know how you would characterize the gang leaders who got 13-year-old kids hopped up on crack, and sent them out in the streets to murder other African-American children,” the former president said. “Maybe you thought they were good citizens — she didn’t.”
(Bill also seems to be channeling the interrogation scene from the movie LA Confidential “Were you hopped up, Ray?)
Plainly, Black Lives Matter protesters never suggested that “good citizens” “murder” “children.” Bill’s claim that they did so shows how panicked he was by Bernie’s big win in Wisconsin. Bill’s story that “gang leaders … got 13-year old kids hopped up on crack, and sent them … to murder other African-American children” is a racist myth. Even the ultra-hard right authors that invented the term “super predator” and described black crack users as akin to animals abandoned the term and their claims over five years ago. Bill has gone far to the right of the ultra-right wing by disinterring these racist myths, claiming that they were and are accurate, and making the preposterous claim that Black Lives Matter protesters support those who murder black children.
How badly did Bill do on crime in his Philadelphia speech? I’ve just found a Wall Street Journal editorial that they have posted entitled “In Defense of Bill Clinton.” The WSJ’s editorial team praises the Clintons for “telling the truth” about the “super predators,” falsely asserts that the crime bill is what reduced crime, and applauds his claim that Black Lives Matter members seek to defend those who murder black children. Murdoch’s minions then instruct Democrats and Black Lives Matter “agitators” (another racist meme buried 30 years ago that the WSJ dug up for this editorial) on why they should be praising Bill’s disinterring the racist fiction of “gang leaders who got 13-year-olds hopped up on crack and sent them out onto the street to murder other African-American children.”
Progressives at the time were happy to go along with Mr. Clinton’s New Democratic policies when center-right positioning seemed essential to winning the White House. But now they’re too intimidated by Black Lives Matter to tell the truth.
The Black Lives Matter agitators should thank President Clinton, not excoriate him.
When Murdoch’s mouthpieces purport to “tell the truth” to blacks and progressives it’s a sure sign that they are lying.