Hillary Clinton became a canonized figure in feminist and American history for redefining the role of the First Lady in American politics. Her women’s rights speech in Beijing in 1995 made her a household name. But today, Hillary’s brand of feminism is limited. It is what some have dubbed “white feminism” because it ignores racial and economic justice. As our society has advanced, so too has our understanding of women’s issues. Feminism now embraces the idea of intersectionality—that women experience layers of oppression based on factors like race, class, sexuality, whether they are cis or trans gender, ethnicity, etc. Nevertheless, she’s won the endorsement of several major women’s groups including Planned Parenthood, EMILY’s List, and NARAL Pro-Choice America over her rival and intersectional feminist, Bernie Sanders (who has a 100% record from NARAL).
Women’s groups endorsing Clinton are at least more understandable than her most recent endorsement from the Congressional Black Caucus’ CBCPAC (without the approval of the CBC membership). New York Representative Hakeem Jeffries even spoke out on her behalf, calling her “a true friend to the African American community for the last 40 years.” There is very little in Hillary Clinton’s past to warrant this praise.
As a teenager, Hillary Clinton cut her teeth campaigning for Barry Goldwater, one of the originators of the GOP’s infamous Southern Strategy who many believed was a segregationist. Though our teenage convictions aren’t necessarily determinative of who we become, this grounding offers insight into why Hillary Clinton rose to national prominence when she did.
The 1990’s were a time of GOP narrative dominance. Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party had successfully realigned the south, and stripped the Democratic Party of its strongest voting base by way of the Southern Strategy — using coded language as racial dog whistles to appeal to white voters. Where the Civil Rights Movement (and subsequent 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act) had put the south under the microscope for the world to see, the southern realignment shifted the focus back on the black community. Crime and welfare abuse by “welfare queens” became racial dog whistles, conjuring up images of feckless and criminal black people in the minds of America’s conservative white voters. Race baiting was used to sell Milton Friedman-style, laissez-faire economic policies (or Reaganomics).
A new breed of Democrats, calling themselves “New Democrats,” rose up to restore balance to the political system by winning back those pesky southern whites. Instead of challenging the narrative, they practiced third way politics — embracing elements of the Republican platform in terms of economic and social policy. Unfortunately that meant embracing a platform tailored to win over the racist vote, as Republican strategist (and mentor to Karl Rove) Lee Atwater explained in an interview in 1981:
The New Democrats retreated from the legacy of civil rights, and distanced themselves from Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition, the New Deal, and the Great Society. The leaders of this insurgent movement were the Clintons.
“It’s a stark fact that the United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, yet we have almost 25 percent of the world’s total prison population. The numbers today are much higher than they were 30, 40 years ago despite the fact that crime is at historic lows.”— Hillary Clinton
Bill Clinton campaigned on the notion that he would be “tough on crime.” Of course, this way he could tap into the Reagan legacy. This effort translated to nothing less than a complete abandonment of the black community. The infamous Sister Souljah Moment where he scorned black America for the LA riots, and specifically Sister Souljah for her reactionary remarks, captured the attitude of his administration perfectly; his was not Johnson’s Democratic Party.
In 1994 Clinton signed into law the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (VCCLEA). This bill, which included the Violence Against Women Act and the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act, also contained several controversial components. These included the expansion of the death penalty to 60 new offenses (including drug-trafficking and carjacking), criminalization of gang membership, the elimination of education grants to inmates, a “three strikes you’re out” rule for repeat drug offenders, and the allocation of federal grant money to states to build prisons and make their sentencing laws harsher.
And just for good measure, in 1996, Clinton signed into law the Housing Opportunity Extension Act which contained a “one strike rule” for public housing which allowed for the eviction of drug offenders and their families, and barred those with criminal records. This took nationwide effect in 1998. HUD told Human Rights Watch that 46,657 applicants were denied application for public housing due to the law.
As one would expect, considering the provisions contained within relating to women’s safety, First Lady Hillary Clinton joined with her husband in support of the “tough on crime” measures. She called the ‘94 omnibus both “smart and tough.”
However those provisions weren’t the only parts of the law she supported.
“We will be able to say, loudly and clearly, that for repeat, violent, criminal offenders: three strikes and you’re out,” Clinton said at a 1994 conference of female police officers, “We are tired of putting you back in through the revolving door” (a reference to Bush’s racist Revolving Door ad).
Two years after the passage of the omnibus, during the 1996 election cycle, the First Lady touted it as an effective measure to combat gangs of young “superpredators” without conscience or empathy. The imagery and message were clear: this was how white America would fight back against wanton acts of violence by inner-city black men.
The fact is, race is an inseparable and undeniable element of the “tough on crime” Clinton Administration. The VCCLEA was a major contributing factor to our current problem of mass incarceration, where one in three black men will end up in jail in their lifetime. It also contributed to the high poverty rates among poor and minority communities across America.
To this day, in spite of her rhetoric against mass incarceration, Hillary Clinton has not distanced herself from the misguided and racist “tough on crime” policies of the 90’s that saw many nonviolent (mostly minority) drug offenders put behind bars. She does not support legalization of the recreational use of marijuana — or decriminalization. Even as the data shows that marijuana’s illegality disproportionately hurts minority communities (especially black America), Clinton finds herself stuck in the past.
As I mentioned before, welfare reform was a priority for the Clinton Administration. Not wanting to be outdone by the Republican Party, President Bill Clinton promised to “end welfare as we know it.” And in 1996, he did just that, signing his “welfare reform” legislation called the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, which was a part of the GOP’s Contract With America.
The act targeted Reagan’s mythical “welfare queens;” it was meant to curtail laziness, sexual promiscuity, and out-of-wedlock births among welfare recipients. Among other things, it gave the states near complete discretion over administration of benefits, eliminated the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (ADFC), replacing it with Temporary Assistance For Needy Families (TANF) and jobs training. A lifetime limit of five years on recipient benefits was also introduced. The end result was a purging of welfare rolls nationwide.
The PRWORA has been panned by liberals and progressives ever since its passage. And looking back it is responsible for causing a spike in extreme poverty, and hitting minorities and single women particularly hard. While employment did increase, most of the former recipients who did find jobs did not escape poverty. Feminist icon Barbara Ehrenreich criticized the law in “A Step Back to the Workhouse?” for perpetuating negative stereotypes of poor blacks, and asserting that it reinforced patriarchal views regarding the legitimacy of children.
Notably absent from the numerous liberal voices who have criticized the law is Hillary Clinton. Not only did Clinton not oppose “welfare reform” at the time, she fought for its passage. As Samuel Adler-Bell and Clio Chang of the New Republic point out:
[W]hen it comes to welfare reform, First Lady Clinton was much more than a supportive spouse. She whipped Democratic votes for the bill. She praised it in the press and wrote columns lauding its impact through the 1990s. As recently as 2008, Secretary Clinton defended the legislation as necessary and successful, insisting that welfare “should not be considered an anti-poverty program.”
In fairness to the former First Lady, that was then and this is now; she’s had years to reconsider, but she hasn’t. In fact, she’s turned it into a campaign talking point about how her husband put people back to work!
Hillary Clinton’s antagonistic relationship with race resurfaced again in 2008 when she was running against now-President Barack Obama. As the race became tighter, Clinton dipped into Lee Atwater’s playbook, and circulated a picture of Obama dressed as a Somali elder in an effort to gin up racial fears.
David Plouffe, Obama’s campaign manager, had this to say:
On the very day that Senator Clinton is giving a speech about restoring respect for America in the world, her campaign has engaged in the most shameful, offensive fear-mongering we’ve seen from either party in this election. This is part of a disturbing pattern that led her county chairs to resign in Iowa, her campaign chairman to resign in New Hampshire, and it’s exactly the kind of divisive politics that turns away Americans of all parties and diminishes respect for America in the world.
Bernie Sanders hit the nail on the head when he asserted that the establishment was lined up behind Hillary Clinton. CBCPAC’s endorsement of Hillary is just the most recent example of this trend.
The Clintons are a huge money-making political machine with arguably more influence than any other in Washington (on either side of the aisle). Not only do they throw money at Congressional races, but their ties extend globally. While Hillary was Secretary of State, she was in a unique position to extend her influence globally through, among other things, the sale of arms. An investigation from the International Business Times found that the State Department under Hillary, sold weapons to countries that donated to the Clinton Foundation at a greater rate than those that did not.
The Clintons have built an empire by cozying up to, and exchanging favors with the most powerful people in the world (like executives on Wall Street). This allows them the resources necessary to exert control over the Democratic Party and the media.
Recently Gawker released emails revealing exactly how far that influence extends (Clinton spokespeople apparently get to request certain language in pieces reporting on Clinton). Even MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, who came under fire for playing softball with Hillary, has ties to the Clinton political machine. As it turned out, his wife, Kathleen Matthews, is running for Congress with the aid of the Clintons.
It is becoming more apparent by the day that Bill and Hillary are remarkably similar to the Koch Brothers. They are not the embodiment of Democratic values; they are the embodiment of American politics after the Citizens United Supreme Court decision.
The worst part about this situation, is how much the Clinton machine threatens to subvert the democratic process. Before any votes were cast, Hillary had a 45-to-1 superdelegate advantage over Sanders in the primary. While superdelegates have never been determinative of the outcome, that ratio is still disturbing in light of the results of the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire Primary.
It is clear that if our system is to survive, the kind of influence peddling practiced by the Clintons must end.