Politics & Policy

Bill Clinton Tries Sister Souljah, the Sequel, but It Won’t Fly with Today’s Progressives

(ABC News/YouTube)

I never thought I’d type these words, but here goes: Yesterday, Bill Clinton spoke the truth passionately, convincingly, and with great clarity. And if Americans have ears to hear, he’ll go a long way towards ending one of the more fraudulent protest movements in recent American history.

While Clinton was speaking at a rally in Philadelphia, Black Lives Matter protesters attempted to interrupt him, making all the standard arguments (if you can call loudly shouted lies “arguments”). The core of their case against the Clintons — why they say Bill “destroyed black communities” — is that the 1994 crime bill he signed “fueled mass incarceration.”

The bill was one part — an important part — of a massive national effort to respond to soaring crime rates, and in the years since its passage, violent crime has plunged to rates not seen in decades. No one gives all — or even most — of the credit to the 1994 bill (and elements of it, such as the assault-weapons ban, were ineffective), but it was entirely consistent with a strategic approach that combined more cops and harsher sentences with new technological tools (such as New York City’s CompStat) that helped place police exactly where they were needed most. Countless thousands of black lives have been saved.

But don’t tell that to social-justice warriors. To them, the 1994 bill is proof positive of pervasive white supremacy, black-on-black crime is a myth, and Democratic politicians have to repudiate their past support for law-and-order policies or face shame, protest, and disruption.

And, for a time, both Bill and Hillary largely complied. They repudiated key provisions of their bill and decried “mass incarceration” with rhetoric lifted from Black Lives Matter. Hillary also apologized for calling young, hardened criminals “super predators” in a 1996 speech. But that’s old news. Yesterday, Bill was angry, and angry Bill told the truth:

Of course he’s still Bill Clinton, and that means Slick Willie’s gonna Slick Willie. He tried to blame the more punitive aspects of the bill on Joe Biden and Republicans, when history clearly demonstrates that Clinton ran and governed as a law-and-order “new Democrat.” This is the man who famously oversaw the execution of a mentally disabled black man as governor of Arkansas in the midst of the 1992 presidential race. This is the man who engineered the original “Sister Souljah” moment when he famously condemned a marginal rapper who said, “If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?”

#share#But after his efforts to deflect blame, Clinton unleashed. In perhaps his most memorable comment, he defended Hillary’s “super predator” line and hit the heart of corrupt Black Lives Matter ideology:

I don’t know how you would characterize the gang leaders who got 13-year-olds hopped up on crack and sent them out onto the street to murder other African-American children. Maybe you thought they were good citizens. She didn’t! . . . You are defending the people who kill the lives you say matter! Tell the truth! You are defending the people who caused young people to go out and take guns. 

He wasn’t finished. He argued that the crime bill helped bring about a “25-year low in crime” and a “30-year low in the murder rate” and asked, “And who do you think those lives were that mattered? Whose lives were saved that mattered.”

Clinton was bold, but 2016 isn’t 1992, and the Democrats aren’t desperate to reclaim the White House but rather are secure in their cultural and political position. The social-justice warriors rule the Democrats, and they were not amused. A Jezebel writer declared that Clinton reached “peak white mansplain.” MSNBC’s Christopher Hayes called Clinton’s argument “twisted.”

Josh Marshall said that Clinton “stepped in it.”

Social-justice activists passed around Michelle Alexander’s widely-read February piece in The Nation arguing that Hillary doesn’t “deserve” the black vote — in large part because of the 1994 bill — and Vox’s German Lopez warned that “criminal justice reformers just got another reason to be skeptical of the Clintons.”

#related#Bill Clinton is a shrewd and talented politician, but he may have misjudged the temper of his own party. It’s growing more progressive by the day, and it’s convinced that its demographic edge means that it doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) moderate. Many members of the progressive base are angry that Obama didn’t govern left enough, and Hillary herself is reeling after multiple consecutive defeats at the hands of a socialist far to her left.

Angry Bill may have let the truth slip. Or perhaps he was making an intentional play for the middle. Either way, the next few days will be instructive. Will he back down? How will Hillary respond? While both Bill and Hillary draw on an enormous reservoir of good will among rank-and-file Democrats, one thing is clear — progressives are not amused, and in the modern Democratic party, progressives almost always get what they want.

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