Politics & Policy

Only Divisive Racial-Identity Politics Can Save Hillary Clinton

(Justin Sullivan/Getty)

Let’s pause for a moment and ponder the sheer, breathtaking magnitude of Hillary Clinton’s collapse. In Iowa, she once held a 56-point lead over Bernie Sanders in the polls. She finished in a dead heat, with the Iowa Democratic party, led by a woman whose car reportedly sports an “HRC2016” license plate, brazenly stonewalling an inquiry into numerous voting irregularities. In New Hampshire, her lead over Sanders also peaked at 56 points, and she lost by 22 — a stunning 78-point turnaround.

It would be a partial consolation (very partial) if she lost to a young, charismatic firebrand, but she’s losing to an avowed socialist, a man who has traditionally and proudly rejected the Democratic party. He served in the Senate as an independent and publicly identified as a Democrat only two months ago. Even worse, when asked to describe Clinton, the first words in voters’ minds are “liar,” “dishonest,” and “untrustworthy.”

Oh, and has anyone mentioned that she’s under FBI investigation for improper storage and handling of classified information (and perhaps also for public corruption)?

And yet she is still the odds-on favorite for the Democratic nomination — because of race. So far, black and Latino voters aren’t feeling the Bern, and with the campaign heading south, that could cripple his effort. The short version of the black and Latino case against Bernie is simple — his class-based rhetoric indicates that he just doesn’t get it. The true divide in America isn’t class but race, and the true enemy of progress isn’t Wall Street but white supremacy.

RELATED: Clinton’s Crushing New Hampshire Defeat Leaves Supporters Struggling for Answers

For Hillary to win, she’s going to have to relentlessly feed that narrative. Sanders is out of touch. Sanders doesn’t truly understand your struggle. She’ll hype any real or imagined racial slights, embrace Black Lives Matter, and waffle just enough on reparations to maintain the fiction that only Sanders has clearly rejected compensating the descendants of slaves and victims of Jim Crow. She’ll argue that Sanders is new to the fight and can’t be trusted. She’ll stoke the fires of racial grievance as fast and hot as she can to win, and she’ll do it without a second thought.

And the entire time she’s stoking those divisions, she’ll be attempting to conceal and cover up two huge vulnerabilities. The first is the blaring message today in The Nation — that Clinton-era crime bills and welfare reform “decimated black America.” Michelle Alexander makes the progressive case:

On the campaign trail, Bill Clinton made the economy his top priority and argued persuasively that conservatives were using race to divide the nation and divert attention from the failed economy. In practice, however, he capitulated entirely to the right-wing backlash against the civil-rights movement and embraced former president Ronald Reagan’s agenda on race, crime, welfare, and taxes — ultimately doing more harm to black communities than Reagan ever did.

And who stood by his side the entire time — part of the “two-for-one” presidency? Hillary Clinton. The Democratic party has moved so far left on crime and punishment that Bill Clinton recently disavowed his signature crime bill, admitting that he made the problem of mass incarceration worse. Hillary will talk the talk of racial justice, but will Black Lives Matter believe that she’s walked the walk?

#share#The second vulnerability has been less discussed, but it’s just as real. Black and Latino voters are far more sympathetic to socialism than whites are. In other words, they’re a natural constituency for the Sanders economic message. In 2011, just as the Occupy movement was dominating the headlines, the Pew Research Center surveyed American attitudes toward capitalism and found that black and Latino voters were far more hostile to capitalism and more accepting of socialism than were white voters. The numbers were dramatic:

Black and Latino voters are more hostile to capitalism than either Occupy supporters or liberal Democrats. In other words, the political kindling is ready to Bern.

Gender politics backfired on Clinton in New Hampshire. Young women didn’t respond well to being hectored, lectured, and patronized. Experience isn’t a trump card when that experience includes deep participation in a failing system and support for mass incarceration. She can’t possibly promise more social and economic change than Sanders. That leaves her with obfuscation, misdirection, and personal attacks — combined, perhaps, with a modest move to Sanders’s economic right, presenting an allegedly “realistic” plan for economic growth.

The coronation is over. Clinton faces a grim and grinding scorched-earth march to the nomination. Only identity politics can save her now.


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