In the Democratic race for the presidential nomination, a notable characteristic of front-runner Hillary Clinton's agenda is that she is running on quite a different, and significantly more left-wing, platform than her husband did during his two presidential races in the 1990s.
In fact, a quick glance at Clinton's campaign page detailing her positions on the subject might have been read 20 years ago as a direct repudiation of Bill Clinton's policies, which increased prison populations around the country. There is widespread acknowledgement, outside of the fringe right, that those policies failed; indeed, in 2015 Clinton himself admitted his criminal justice reform bill hurt the country, according to POLITICO.
Most importantly, Hillary Clinton was not president at the time and did not have substantial input into the 1994 crime bill, which has been haunting her throughout the 2016 campaign. Even if one views the Clintons as sleazy and dishonest political operators, it's hard to blame Hillary for the passage of a bill that had bipartisan support and that her husband was responsible for ultimately signing.
But the anger has been boiling over and may be affecting Clinton's campaign in Pennsylvania, where Mr. Clinton was heckled on April 7 about his involvement in passing the crime bill. Clinton defended his record and the passage of the bill, arguing Black Lives Matter protestors were misguided and that the legislation helped African-Americans by protecting them from gangs, according to The New York Times.
It may turn out that Bill Clinton is on the wrong side of history on this issue; the U.S.'s astonishing incarceration rate and the financially unsustainable expense of its current prison system seem to mark at least two strikes against him.
Which is precisely why his wife's campaign should not be attacked for the sins of his administration. Hillary Clinton was not the linchpin behind the crime bill or welfare reform even if she rhetorically and politically supported them when her husband was president. There were numerous interests behind the passage of these bills, and they were seen as popular at the time.
But now, the former secretary of state is running a campaign based on the idea that too many people in the U.S. are incarcerated, and that the country needs to start dismantling this enormous prison-industrial complex that has been growing for the past 40 years or more. If Hillary fails to do anything to seriously challenge the system once in office, then perhaps criticism of her on this issue is justified.
But Hillary knows the challenges she faces. She knows she will be under a blue microscope, even more than President Barack Obama has been. She knows she will face the challenging task of defining herself as a Democratic president following a relatively popular, two-term Democratic president, a challenging task because it usually doesn't happen or ends up with the candidate becoming a one-term president.
Hillary Clinton can be criticized for many things such as her private email server, her arguably disastrous handling of Libya's civil war and her generally hawkish worldview. But it is Hillary running for president, not Bill, and if critics want to hammer Bill's record on welfare and crime, then Hillary should be left out of it.