How Much Should Clinton's Endorsement Matter Anyway? | Bleader

Friday, January 21, 2011

How Much Should Clinton's Endorsement Matter Anyway?

Posted By on 01.21.11 at 11:29 AM

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You might have heard that mayoral candidate Carol Moseley Braun has criticized Bill Clinton for supporting her opponent, Rahm Emanuel, instead of her. "The African-American community if you remember when he was having Monica Lewinsky problems stuck by him,” Braun told reporters. "Then to go and not endorse any of the minority candidates, or just to stay out of it, that would have been the best ... the minority community stayed with Bill Clinton when Monica Lewinsky almost took his job.”

Rep. Danny Davis also remembers a tight relationship. He describes Clinton as "a friend, political ally and as one whose goals and objectives may have been similar" to those of African-Americans. Davis was originally a mayoral candidate, but dropped out and is now endorsing Braun.

But even though Braun and Davis are talking like Clinton and minorities were best friends forever, that's a hard case to make. As Princeton professor Melissa Harris-Perry (formerly Harris-Lacewell) noted in 2008 (around the time when Hillary Clinton was running for president and Braun was not endorsing her): "There is no evidence to suggest that African-Americans were in a better economic position than whites at any time in American history, including during Clinton's presidency. In fact, striking gaps in income, employment, and wealth continue to distinguish black economic reality in the United States." Yet in 2000, a national survey showed 30 percent of African-Americans believed they were doing better than whites, Harris-Perry and Bethany Albertson observed in a 2005 Journal of Black Studies article.

Talking about how much of a "friend" Clinton was to minorities perpetuates the falsehoods that Harris-Perry and Albertson and others have refuted. Sure, Clinton might have been Braun's friend during the former senator's 1998 re-election bid. But he wasn't nearly as friendly to the millions of African-Americans who weren't key Senate votes for the Democratic Party. Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (1996), a product of the Gingrich Congress's Contract With America contingent that mandated huge reductions of the nation's welfare rolls by encouraging women to seek employment or face being kicked off the rolls. No problem in promoting industriousness, at least on its face—except that the job opportunities available to many of these women were extremely limited and low-paying. Of course, most welfare recipients were actually white women—but many legislators would have had you believe otherwise.

The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which limited prisoners' habeas corpus rights, was another piece of legislation supported by the Right that Clinton signed. Given that African-Americans are overrepresented in America's prison population, the bill carried a built-in racial bias. It also restricted the access to federal appeals commonly sought by death row inmates, who are disproportionately black.

On a related note: A few weeks ago, Braun's campaign manager, Mike Noonan, told me his boss was "running to represent the views of all the normal working people who live paycheck to paycheck and worry about how they’re going to send their kids to college." You can include most of the African-Americans in Chicago in that "normal working people" bracket, and Clinton didn't do very much for "normal working people" while he was in office. As the St. Petersburg Times's PolitiFact column noted in December 2007, "The income gap actually grew more during the Democratic Clinton administration than it has during the Bush administration. According to U.S. Census data, the share of income for the wealthiest 5 percent rose from 18.6 percent in 1992 to 22.1 percent in 2000. That's a jump of almost 19 percent." To be fair, the income gap had been growing for years prior to Clinton's inauguration, and he did do some things like raise taxes on the wealthy. But the gap widened nonetheless.

Since he left office, Clinton's been doing a remarkable job helping people around the world through his William J. Clinton Foundation. Last year he visited Chicago (for an "outsider," he stops through town fairly regularly) and talked about his foundation's accomplishments: getting children to school, feeding them and their families, consoling people in Rwanda. But all those good deeds don't erase what took place during his watch as president, regardless of whether Braun or Davis or anyone else chooses to overlook it.

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