Politics

Bill Clinton's Record Should Reflect On Hillary

| by Nik Bonopartis
Hillary ClintonHillary Clinton

It looks like Black Lives Matter protesters aren't done with the Clintons.

After a young woman famously called out Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for describing black youth as "superpredators" two decades ago, hecklers took aim at her husband on April 7 to remind him they haven't forgotten his pivotal role in putting millions of black men behind bars.

As a Democrat who veered center and appealed to voters by promising to be tough on crime, then-President Clinton signed 1994's Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.

Among other things, the act vastly expanded prisons, established draconian mandatory sentences, eliminated education for most prison inmates and instituted the "three strikes" rule. The latter was responsible for thousands of stories of excessively punitive punishments, like defendants with priors getting hit with 25 year sentences for crimes like shoplifting.

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This judge looked an inmate square in the eyes and did something that left the entire courtroom in tears:

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This judge looked an inmate square in the eyes and did something that left the entire courtroom in tears:

In the decades since, most Americans and policy experts have come to agree the 1994 bill was a disaster; It led to chronic prison overcrowding, an entire generation of mostly poor, minority men rendered almost unemployable and a criminal justice system in which judges have their hands tied when it comes to handing out appropriate sentences.

But at a Philadelphia campaign stop, as hecklers shouted that he should be charged with crimes against humanity, former President Bill Clinton defended his record.

Bill talked over the hecklers, according to The New York Times, insisting the draconian law protected black lives from gang members. He tried to shield his wife by saying she wasn't responsible for his record.

“She had nothing to do with it,” he said, scolding the hecklers. “When somebody won’t hush and listen to you, that ain’t democracy. They’re afraid of the truth.”

Of course, if things had been reversed and the 1994 crime bill had been celebrated in retrospect, Bill would have been praising his wife's involvement. And involved she was, as First Lady, she publicly pushed for passage of the crime bill, thus the unfortunate TV news clip where she talks about "superpredators."

But it begs the question: Should Bill Clinton's record as president reflect on Hillary Clinton the presidential candidate?

Overwhelmingly, yes.

Anyone who thinks a vote for Hillary isn't a vote for a package deal is deluding themselves. Even if Hillary wanted to go it alone, which she hasn't, Bill is a fame-hungry, limelight-loving type who can't help but activate his trademark magnetism. He wants to be the center of attention, He wants to be loved. He wants to matter.

Hillary knows that, and we can be damn sure her campaign had plenty of internal discussions about whether her husband would hurt her by stumping for her. Undoubtedly, with the aid of polls, which show softening attitudes on the former president in the 15-plus years since he's left office, the Clinton campaign decided he's more of a help than a hindrance.

That's why he's out there basking in the adoration of small-town voters, spinning tales so the plebs will think a vote for Hillary is a vote for a new, nearly-identical Clinton administration. An administration of 90s nostalgia, complete with surging stock markets, tech booms, economic good times and a simpler world where terrorism was something you could deal with by aiming a few scud missiles at some tents in Afghanistan.

But even if Hillary's campaign people told Bill to stay home, even if her campaign's internal polls showed his presence on the trail would hurt her already-fragile standing with the public, no one should operate under the assumption that a new Clinton administration would be Hillary's show only.

While Bill's slimy charm makes him unique among American political operators, he and Hillary share the same modus operandi. They share the same dismissive attitudes toward the American public and the same view that the world's rules don't apply to them.

That's why Hillary's Benghazi testimony and her email server scandal continue to dog her. It's not so much that she was caught lying about communication between her state department and the American embassy in Libya, or that she was caught mishandling classified documents. It's not even that she demonstrated absolute contempt for transparency by deleting thousands of her emails.

Those things are important, yes, and damaging to her campaign, but it's the way she's responded to those controversies that bears all the hallmarks of Clintonian politics: avoid blame, insist the accusations are part of a vast right wing conspiracy, feign ignorance and never, ever use language that could imply guilt.

That's why, even when admitting the 1994 crime bill was disastrous, Hillary spoke of it like it was some other president's mistake, and some other First Lady who pushed for it.

“Decisions were made in the ‘80s and ‘90s to deal with what was at that time a very high crime rate that was particularly affecting poor people, people of color in the cities,” Clinton said, according to The Huffington Post. “I think that a lot was done that went further than it needed to go and so now we are facing problems with mass incarceration.”

Got that? Decisions were made. A lot was done. "We" are facing problems. Never admit your role in the mess.

Yes, Bill and Hillary are a package deal. Whether it's Donald Trump or presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas who wins the Republican nomination, you can be sure they'll remind people of that, loudly and often. Voters shouldn't forget it either.

Click here for the opposing view on this topic.

Sources: The New York Times, C-SPAN via YouTube, The Huffington Post, NPR / Photo credit: Marc Nozell/Flickr

Should Hillary Clinton be judged on the record of her husband, former President Bill Clinton?
Yes - 68%
Yes - 32%