But Clinton’s record, particularly with respect to Black and brown Americans and the poor, was marked by catastrophic miscalculation. It was characterized by tacking toward a presumed middle — “triangulation,” the administration called it — which on some levels, abandoned and betrayed the minority base that so heavily supported him.
Two major pieces of Clinton-signed legislation stand out: The crime bill of 1994 and the welfare reform bill of 1996.
view the crime bill as disastrous. It flooded the streets with police officers and contributed to the rise of mass incarceration, which disproportionately impacts Black men and their families. It helped to drain Black communities of fathers, uncles, husbands, partners and sons.
A 2015 New York Times Upshot analysis of 2010 census data found that there were 1.5 million “missing” Black men between the ages of 25 and 54, comparing the totals of Black men and women who were not incarcerated. According to the report: “Using census data, we estimated that about 625,000 prime-age Black men were imprisoned, compared with 45,000 Black women. This gap — of 580,000 — accounts for more than one-third of the overall gap.”
It continued: “It is the result of sharply different incarceration rates for Black men and any other group. The rate for prime-age Black men is 8.2 percent, compared with 1.6 percent for nonblack men, 0.5 percent for Black women and 0.2 percent for nonblack women.”
The 2010 figure is just a snapshot in time. It doesn’t fully account for the decades of destruction wreaked by the crime bill.
Yeah, the crime bill and welfare reform were….horrible! And really, there’s so much more. There’s NAFTA. There’s traveling back to Arkansas to murder Ricky Lee Rector so he could look tough on crime. There’s signing Helms-Burton. There’s him blowing a ton of political capital to get blown.
We don’t have to defend Bill Clinton because he was a Democrat. Yes, obviously he was better than Republicans. But that doesn’t mean he was a good president. Not at all.
I also want to push back hard on the conventional wisdom narrative that Democrats had to nominate a conservative in 1992 to bring them back from the wilderness. The idea that Democrats were nominating a bunch of wild liberals that were destroying the party. There was nothing liberal in any way, shape, or form about Carter. Mondale was a liberal, sure, but the conditions in 84 would have made it very difficult for any Democrat to be elected. Dukakis was a centrist technocrat who Lee Atwater was able to paint as a liberal, but he was not a liberal. The economy was strong in 88 and it wasn’t a good campaign. There were plenty of reasons he lost. In 1992, Clinton won because the economy tanked. Most of the research suggests that Perot split the votes and didn’t throw the election to Clinton. It’s certainly true that Clinton had A+ political skills. That didn’t hurt. But it was really about the economy. Democrats had a far better choice than Clinton, even among the Democrats who did choose to run. That was Tom Harkin. Alas, Democrats didn’t go that direction. In any case, Clinton won the Electoral College going away. It was a huge blowout. Other Democrats might have won by a smaller margin, but there was room to lose some votes.
Of course I don’t know what a different outcome might have looked like. But the point is neither does anyone else who claims that only Clinton could have defeated Bush. What the narrative around Clinton’s election represents is a lot of Beltway CW that needs to at least be questioned.
In any case, Bill Clinton really sucked.