After performing below expectations, with her presidential candidacy in jeopardy, Hillary Clinton touted her support among one racial group to save her campaign. The year was 2008 and the racial group whose support Hillary Clinton was bragging about were white voters. The rest is history.
Yesterday, after getting crushed by Senator Bernie Sanders by almost 20 points in the New Hampshire 2016 presidential primary, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s campaign touted her supposed support among African-Americans, who will save her campaign as the presidential primaries move to more racially diverse states.
Putting aside whether this support is solid or likely to last, is the question of it being deserved based on a record of performance.
Professor Michelle Alexander’s considered view is that Hillary Clinton is decidedly negative on that question. Writing for The Nation, Alexander examines Hillary Clinton’s record and concludes that, far from being a champion for black progress, Hillary Clinton has supported policies that have caused harm to the black community.
Alexander specifically cites the 1994 crime bill, the 1996 welfare “reform” bill, while debunking the myth that African-Americans were particularly prosperous during the years of the Clinton Administration. She notes that black unemployment figures from the 1990s are misleading, given that Clinton’s policies led to the incarceration of many black men and women, who were therefore not counted in the work force:
When Clinton left office in 2001, the true jobless rate for young, non-college-educated black men (including those behind bars) was 42 percent. This figure was never reported. Instead, the media claimed that unemployment rates for African Americans had fallen to record lows, neglecting to mention that this miracle was possible only because incarceration rates were now at record highs. Young black men weren’t looking for work at high rates during the Clinton era because they were now behind bars—out of sight, out of mind, and no longer counted in poverty and unemployment statistics.
The Clinton crime bill sent a generation of black men into new prisons, while the welfare reforms Clinton signed into law threw millions of black families and children into extreme poverty. Impoverishment and suffering are not great ways to win the community’s votes.
But were those consequences from the policies of the Clinton Administration predictable? Professor Donna Much says yes, that President Clinton’s escalation of a racist War on Drugs guaranteed greater suffering for the black community in particular.
The Clinton campaign had even reportedly based their electoral strategy on surveys and polls, conducted by the Democratic Party, showing that socially conservative working class white voters, often called “Reagan Democrats,” would respond positively to a crime approach that focused on racial minorities.
As Much notes, the perhaps most cynical example of this kind of dog-whistle politics was then-Arkansas governor Bill Clinton flying back to Arkansas days before the New Hampshire presidential primary to personally oversee the execution of a cognitively impaired black man, Rickey Ray Rector, who had killed a white police officer.
Hillary Clinton’s championing of these policies, including up to as recently as 2008, provides fodder for those like Alexander and Much that question her progressive credentials and actual commitment to helping African-Americans. Clinton bares all the hallmarks of an opportunist not a conviction politician.
If that view becomes dominant among black voters in South Carolina and beyond, Hillary Clinton may be in for another failed inevitable candidacy.