by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
Bill Clinton’s premeditated assault on Black Lives Matter was part of the strategy to woo White Republican voters to his wife’s “big tent” campaign, in November. Bill jumped the gun, itchy for the Democrats to make their classic rightward shift. He and Hillary share the same political brain. “At some point in the campaign, she was bound to stage a dramatic display of ‘independence’ from Black Lives Matter – or have her husband do it.”
Bill Clinton Insults Blacks in Order to Build Hillary’s “Big Tent” Party
by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
“Hillary is certain to insult the Sandernistas – just as her husband and political soul mate insulted Blacks, in order to prove her “centrist” bona fides to white Republicans.”
Bill Clinton’s tirade against Black Lives Matter demonstrators in Philadelphia, last week, signals that his wife’s inner circle is having great difficulty resisting the urge to lunge rightward into general election campaign mode to scoop up the millions of Republican voters disaffected by Donald Trump. For months, corporate Democratic strategists have been salivating over the prospects of building a super-party – the ultimate “big tent” – from the ashes of a disintegrating GOP. They calculate that the numbers of suburban Republican “moderates” that can be won over to the Democrats in November is greater than potential defections from the party by disgruntled Sandernistas. The Black vote does not even count in this equation, on the assumption that they have nowhere else to go.
There is no question that Bill Clinton’s attempt to create another “Sister Souljah moment,” as the Washington Post’s James Hohmann put it, was dangerously premature. The hordes of Trump-traumatized Republican defectors to the Democrats are still theoretical, while polls show that about a quarter of Sanders’ supporters say they will not vote for Clinton in November if she wins the nomination. Plus, now that the primaries have moved out of the South, larger percentages of Black Democrats are willing to the be swayed by Sanders. The Philadelphia episode will have an impact on their decisions.
“The Clinton camp sees white suburban Republicans as the Mother Lode whose capture can decisively alter the balance of the duopoly system.”
However, the fact that Bill jumped the gun underscores just how itchy the Clinton campaign is to make its classic rightward shift – the strategy it always employs to move the “center” as far to the right as possible. For the Democrats, whites are still the demographic with the greatest “growth” potential, since they have cast a majority of their votes for Republicans in every national election since 1964 (when Hillary was “Goldwater girl”). This election season, the Clinton camp sees white suburban Republicans as the Mother Lode whose capture can decisively alter the balance of the duopoly system. Such an historic realignment would be the ultimate triumph for the corporate New Democrats co-founded by Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton and returned to the White House in the person of Barack Obama.
Hillary Clinton’s more sober advisors must have been horrified at Bill’s 13-minute dress-down of Black Lives Matter. Ideally, the stunt should have been delayed until after Bernie Sanders had capitulated. But, this was no spontaneous outburst from the former president. His full-bore assault on the Black demonstrators was packaged for mass white consumption, and intellectually inspired by the right wing’s premier propaganda mill, the Manhattan Institute. He launched a ferocious defense of mass Black incarceration as both a deterrent and cure for crime: “Because of that bill [his 1994 anti-crime legislation] we had a 25 year low in crime, a 33 year low in the murder rate and...because of that and the background check law, we had a 46 year low in the deaths of people by gun violence.” However, just as with Sister Souljah in 1992, Clinton’s main thrust was not defense, but offense. He had to show white people that he was the man to put uppity Blacks in their place: “I don’t know how you would characterize the gang leaders who got 13-year-old kids hopped on crack and sent them out onto the street to murder other African-American children. Maybe you think they’re good citizens, but she didn’t. You are defending the people who kill the lives you say matter. Tell the truth.”
“Ideally, the stunt should have been delayed until after Bernie Sanders had capitulated.”
Bill Clinton’s behavior was calculated, predictable, and inevitable. The only question was the timing. It’s the song he loves to sing, and Hillary sings it, too, as she did two decades ago when she spoke of the “kinds of kids that are called ‘super predators” – the ones with “no conscience, no empathy, we can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.”
This is a lot louder than a dog-whistle; it’s white racist theater in service of the Mass Black Incarceration State. Bill Clinton reprised the performance, in Philadelphia, a generation later, with full-throated venom.
The Clintons worry that Hillary’s amiable meetings (“chats”) with Black Lives Matter delegations in 2015, and the Democratic National Committee’s endorsement of the Movement that summer, has tainted her with voters that would usually go Republican, but who are thought to be ripe for defection in the Year of the Donald. At some point in the campaign, she was bound to stage a dramatic display of “independence” from Black Lives Matter – or have her husband do it.
Hillary’s defenders claim that she bears no responsibility for her life-partner’s harangue. But, it is obvious that Bill felt no need to recant his position on mass Black incarceration. The next morning, he issued an insulting, back-handed non-apology: "So I did something yesterday in Philadelphia. I almost want to apologize for it," he said. "I know those young people yesterday were just trying to get good television. And they did. But that doesn't mean that I was most effective in answering it.”
“Bill felt no need to recant his position on mass Black incarceration.”
On the contrary, he was quite effective in creating an adversarial distance between the Clintons and the emergent Black movement, in preparation of the general election. Hillary will no doubt reinforce the message many times over between now and November – with every utterance fully enabled by the overwhelmingly Democratic Black Misleadership Class. In the end, she is likely to get her “big tent” party, brimming with newly “moderate” Republicans (white “moderates” being defined as anyone that is uncomfortable with Trumpish language.) And Blacks will count for even less in the Party than before the 2016 election season began.
There are some hopeful aspects to this episode. Bill Clinton’s premeditated assault on Black Lives Matter is yet another lesson to young Black people on why the Democratic Party is part of the problem, not the solution. Bernie Sanders’ leftish legions should see the handwriting on the wall. The Clinton campaign’s reckless fervor to lunge rightward even as the primary process is still in full swing guarantees that she will repeatedly mishandle relations with Sanders supporters, further alienating them from the Democratic Party. She is certain to insult the Sandernistas – just as her husband and political soul mate insulted Blacks, in order to prove her “centrist” bona fides to white Republicans, and thus to build her “big tent.” The best scenario will be for Sanders to win enough delegates in the remaining contests to buoy up the morale of his youthful supporters all the way to the convention in Philadelphia, where the Clintons will make it dramatically – no, theatrically – clear that their “big tent” has no left side. Outraged, but not crushed, Sanders’ supporters may abandon the duopoly in large and energetic enough numbers to begin to pull the tent down.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected].