Policy

Did Hillary Clinton support a “white supremacist” crime bill?

attribution: NONE

VOX

My colleague Andrew Prokop has an absolute must-read analysis of Hillary Clinton’s meeting with Black Lives Matter activists in New Hampshire last week (a video of which was published online yesterday). But to my mind, the heart of the conflict between the activists and Clinton in the video — and their less than enthusiastic reaction afterward — wasn’t about approaches to politics in the present. It was about the 1994 crime bill that Clinton enthusiastically supported and her husband signed — and how Clinton views that bill now.

The crux of the conflict is this: The activists see the 1994 crime bill, and the “tough-on-crime” agenda more generally, as “extensions of white supremacist violence against communities of color.” Clinton agrees with them that the criminal justice system needs to be reformed, but refuses to accept that characterization of the bill.

At first, she characterizes it as something that made sense at the time but might not make sense anymore — a position her husband has also taken in offering a partial apology for signing the bill.

Clinton denies any racist intent in her crime policies

But when one activist associates the bill with a project of “white supremacist violence,” Clinton buckles. She takes it as a statement about intent: that laws like the 1994 crime bill were deliberately passed out of malice toward black communities. And so she counters that she and her husband were deeply concerned about black victims of crime, and were simply acting out of a desire to protect them:

there was a very serious crime wave that was impacting primarily communities of color and poor people. And part of it was that there was just not enough attention paid. So you know, you could argue that people who were trying to address that—including my husband, when he was President—were responding to the very real concerns of people in the communities themselves.

This is an important point: Many black Americans, including black leaders, welcomed “tough-on-crime” policies as a way to protect their communities. A majority of the Congressional Black Caucus voted for the 1986 law that created the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. And in 1994, it was the CBC that saved President Clinton’s crime bill after an unexpected loss on a procedural vote.

This is a history that’s been largely forgotten, partly because many of these leaders regret their positions now or — like former Rep. Kweisi Mfume — deny that they supported the bill at all. And in fairness, there was plenty of black opposition to tough-on-crime policies. There are probably good questions to ask about who is trusted to speak for black communities, and whether black leaders felt politically pressured to denounce the crime in their midst as a condition of being taken seriously.

But they certainly weren’t white supremacists. Clinton was correct. Yet it’s not clear that she was answering the right question.

Consequences matter more than feelings

The problem is that the conversation isn’t clear whether “extension of white supremacist violence” is about the intent of these policies or their consequences. This is a common problem with discussion of racism: Structural racism isn’t about feelings in individuals’ hearts, it’s about systems and outcomes. But it’s easy to slip from talking about systems to talking about people, and that’s what happened here.

Personally, I think the intent simply doesn’t matter. Clinton herself said, “You don’t change hearts. You change laws.” What matters is the external reality, not the feelings of the people who create it; caring about people will not save you from making policy choices that will hurt them. And — especially with hindsight — it’s possible to see that theconsequences of the 1994 crime bill, as well as the tough-on-crime laws it encouraged states to pass or keep, were part of a system that has created widespread immiseration in black America.

Those consequences may have been intended or unintended. But people often confuse “unintended consequences” and “collateral damage,” and the damage done by the bill wasn’t collateral. By 1994, the crime wave had already peaked; the crime rate was starting a quarter-century of decline. Increased incarceration is responsible for a small fraction of that — but by 1994, the people being put in prison, on the margin, had long since stopped being the people who posed a serious threat. The suffering caused by the bill wasn’t a caveat, it was the primary consequence of its passage.

The question: What has Clinton learned?

When Clinton asked the activists to put forward policies of their own that they could demand she and other politicians get on board with, they refused. Because they want Clinton (as well as Bernie Sanders, who voted for the 1994 crime bill, and Martin O’Malley, who built a tough-on-crime regime as mayor of Baltimore) to show that she has educated herself about the problem. Dismantling mass incarceration won’t just take reforms (not all of which make for politically appealing talking points); it will need a resistance tomaking the same sort of mistakes over again in the future.

As far as I’m concerned — and the activists who confronted Clinton might disagree — Clinton doesn’t need to show she’s changed her heart. But she does need to show that she has learned, and changed her mind.

The Supreme Court Is Less Popular Than It Has Been In Decades

THE HUFFINGTON POST

Don’t let the cheering crowds outside the Supreme Court fool you. The largest share of Americans in 30 years has a negative view of the Supreme Court, according to a July survey by the Pew Research Center.

The Pew survey, released Thursday, found that 43 percent of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of the Supreme Court, compared with 48 percent of Americans who have a favorable opinion of it.

Supreme Court’s Image Declines

The increase in unfavorable views of the Supreme Court was driven by a rise in unfavorable views among Republicans. The percentage of Republicans who said they have an unfavorable opinion of the court went from 40 percent in March to 61 percent in the new survey. 

The Pew survey results could have been driven by dissatisfaction with recent Supreme Court decisions. The Supreme Court issued rulings in late June legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide and upholding the Affordable Care Act’s subsidies for buying insurance on state-run exchanges, both of which rankled conservatives. Sixty-three percent of survey respondents opposed to same-sex marriage, and 58 percent of respondents opposed to the Affordable Care Act, have an unfavorable opinion of the Supreme Court.

Views of the Supreme Court Strongly Linked to Opinions about SSM, ACA

Support for the court increased among Democrats over the same period, however. From March to July, the percentage of Democrats with a favorable opinion of the Supreme Court went from 54 percent to 62 percent.

The survey results will come as no surprise to Republican presidential candidates, who have elicited applause for attacking the Supreme Court in their stump speeches. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has gone furthest in his criticism, arguing that the Supreme Court justices should be elected.

Pew surveyed 2,002 adults between July 14 and 20, using live interviewers to reach both landlines and cell phones.

DanielMarans

Six in 10 Americans Want Obama’s Policies to Succeed, but Many Doubt They Will

I’d like to see 70-80% of the country on board to see the POTUS’ policies succeed…

Politics Daily

Six out of 10 Americans hope that President Obama’s policies will succeed — a percentage that has dropped measurably from last year — but the public is roughly split when it comes to whether they think those policies will in fact be successful, according to a CNN/Opinion Research poll conducted Dec. 17-20.

Sixty-one percent want Obama’s program to succeed while 27 percent hope his policies fail. Nine percent have mixed feelings and 3 percent have no opinion. Last December, 71 percent hoped Obama’s policies would succeed compared to 22 percent who wanted them to fail. In March 2009, 86 percent wanted those policies to succeed and 11 percent hoped they would fail. The remainder had mixed opinions.

When it comes to what Americans believe will happen (putting aside whether or not they want Obama’s policies to succeed), 47 percent predict failure while 44 percent say they will succeed. Six percent have mixed opinions and 2 percent are undecided.

CNN polling director Keating Holland called the 61 percent who are in Obama’s corner “a fairly robust number” but singled out as significant the size of the drop-off in the number of those hoping for his success as well as the fact that a plurality predicts his policies will likely fail.

(A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll conducted Dec. 9-13 said 64 percent were only somewhat confident or not at all confident that Obama had the right set of goals and policies to be president, while 36 percent were quite or extremely confident.)
 

The CNN poll said that one factor working in Obama’s favor is that whether Americans approve of the job he is doing or not, 73 percent approve of the president as a person.

Fifty-one percent of those surveyed said it was good for the country that the GOP had taken control of the House while 42 percent said it was bad, with 4 percent answering “neither” and 2 percent undecided.     More…

Obama’s Most Powerful Enemy

In the history of the United States, I don’t think that any president has ever been confronted by a more powerful enemy than the United States Chamber of Commerce and those top companies that comprise the USCOC.

The Daily Beast 

A new analysis of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s donations show just why Obama has been attacking the group so hard. The chamber, which is the world’s largest nonprofit lobbying group, receives millions of donations from big businesses and then turns the money into a powerful tool to fight regulation of those industries. For example, insurance companies poured at least $10 million into the chamber’s coffers while the Obama administration was fighting for health-care reform. Now the group has turned to electoral battles, spreading its largesse almost exclusively to Republican candidates. Its donations are anonymous.  

Read it at The New York Times