Friday, April 8, 2016

Sometimes the Less Said, Bill...

This was the sort of thing I worried about with a Hillary Clinton presidential run--the return of Bill Clinton, former President, world's greatest Hillary fan, and, sorry to say, not always the most disciplined campaign surrogate. An episode with BLM protesters here in Philadelphia had Clinton looking a little like he got stopped at a tollbooth on that bridge to the 21st century and was short of the change.

The Black Lives Matter protesters have targeted political rallies to keep their message a part of this political cycle, but with this event, their particular message placed a good chunk of the blame for the deadly combination of poverty, crime, and police brutality that they want addressed on Bill Clinton's administration, in the form of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 and the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996. They didn't just lay the blame on Bill Clinton, but by extension, his wife, for supporting those policies during his presidency. And he defended them to defend her...and that's problematic.

I have to agree with Ed Kilgore when he explains that President Clinton had no business defending those pieces of legislation. He is marrying himself to them in a way he wasn't "married to them" when those bills got signed, and he's re-litigating the past in a way that isn't necessary or helpful. It only serves to reinforce the idea that Hillary Clinton's campaign endorses them. And it's no way to convince protesters who are already deeply suspicious of the motivations behind that kind of political charcuterie--folks talk about law-making as being a little like watching sausage being made. My husband is a butcher, so I'm not especially alarmed by that comparison--but I will say, that like bologna, social and domestic policies sometimes keep very badly. And in this case, a lot of the assumptions behind those two acts are spoiled.

I do think it might help to look at that legislation in context. The late 1980's was colored by terms like the "crack epidemic". We were seeing violent crime escalate, and terms like "drive-by" became common vernacular. It's easy to see now how use of cheaper crack cocaine and the sentencing and treatment of people who became addicted to it was racialized and tied to the broader moral panic of the War on Drugs. But at the time, what I think of as the "Do Something Mentality" took hold. And a lot of what was done didn't help and had unintended consequences. The addicts and low-level dealers were symptoms of the problem--but were treated with eliminationist means.  The same kind of thinking pervaded the welfare reform debate--welfare users were among the poor, and welfare was then blamed for people staying poor, and so people got thrown off welfare--the law removed a perceived symptom, and then expected people to "get better".

The ideas behind both pieces of legislation reach back beyond the Clinton Administration, though. The increase in policing and sentencing owed a lot to the "broken windows" theory of policing in trying to use policing to improve community norms (or oppress minority communities, depending upon how you look at it) and the ideas regarding welfare and how families were supposed to be improved by having their social safety net yanked have more than a little to do with the Moynihan report--both rest on some idea of victim blaming and then add penal insult to social injury. The idea of the "superpredator" was more of that moral panic stuff--but in the 1980's and 90's we had people who thought Bernard Goetz was a folk hero, admired the Guardian Angels being on the subway, and really thought "wilding" was behind the Central Park jogger case. There were people who thought Satanists were opening up daycare centers and if you played heavy metal records backwards, you would become possessed or commit suicide.

Basically, millennials, 20-30 years ago, folks were extraordinarily dumb. I was there and will testify. As a general rule. But in 1988, when we all knew Gadaffi was behind the Pan AM 103 bombing? I don't know anyone who would have thought his "murder" because of a coup would have been anything you blamed anything on but his own kleptocratic dictator tendencies. And there was one young lady who blamed Hillary Clinton for Gadaffi's "murder" at that rally. Not NATO? Not the Libyans who wanted him out?  Does this young person know what "house-to-house" murder was being advocated by that "victim of imperialism"? That isn't 25 years ago. That was five years ago.

Sometimes, just saying, protests could do with some message discipline as well.

No comments: