Gaius Publius: Michelle Alexander, the Black Community & the Hillary Clinton Campaign

Yves here. Sanders has been able to achieve a great deal of momentum in a short period of time. But can he make inroads into the great brand name advantage with black voters, which are core to Clinton’s strategy?

Let me add some complicating factors to Gaius’ story. One is that I’m puzzled by the fixation on Afro-American voters, and how much less attention is being paid to Hispanics, although that may be due to the fact that Hispanics, even though a larger demographic group, are much less inclined to be in the Team Dem camp than blacks are. However, in New Hampshire, minority voters went 49% for Sanders.

Another factoid I’ve seen in Twitter but not confirmed in more official sources yet is that in New Hampshire, one of the few demographic groups that went for Clinton, in addition to voters over 65 and in households with more than $200,000 of income is….union members, who allegedly preferred Clinton by 9 points. My understanding is the UAW made a big push for Clinton. I’m not sure that that will be as successful with other unions that have endorsed her, like the SEIU and the National Education Association, where rank and file opposition to the leadership stance has been loud.

By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and frequent contributor to DownWithTyranny, digby, Truthout, and Naked Capitalism. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius, Tumblr and Facebook. Originally published at at Down With Tyranny. GP article archive here.

Though I’ve written about this myself, I don’t want to advocate, but present. So consider this a horse race post. Clinton’s self-admitted “firewall” is South Carolina in particular and the southern states in general, states with large numbers of minority voters. Words like “less diverse” when used about New Hampshire and Iowa are code for “white,” or “too white” to lead to a Democratic primary victory.

The Clinton campaign is clearly and openly putting its Sanders-stopping eggs in the minority basket; in particular, counting that victory will come from the hands of the African-American voters. Recent polls show her far ahead of Sanders among those voters, with two contests with a more “diverse” electorate, Nevada and South Carolina, up next.

For example, from a recent PPP poll (pdf) of the national races (my emphasis):

On the Democratic side Hillary Clinton leads Bernie Sanders 53/32. Sanders does keep gradually moving closer- our previous couple polls had her leading 56/28 in December and 59/26 in November. But he still has some weaknesses that may make it hard for him to catch up. Primary among these is African American voters- Clinton leads 82/8 with them and has a 79/9 favorability compared to 27/23 for Sanders. That does suggest some possibility for Sanders to improve his position- part of his problem is just that black voters don’t really know him yet- but he’s starting at a tremendous disadvantage that will make the upcoming run of Southern primaries very difficult for him.

Other polls show her losing by less, but by any measure the difference in support is considerable. So the horse race question — can Sanders make up that difference in the time left to do it? The Nevada caucus is February 20. The South Carolina primary is February 27. Super Tuesday is March 1. Each will occur in just a few weeks.

Hillary Clinton & the Black Vote

Enter widely respected author and academic, Michelle Alexander, writing in The Nation. Alexander is best known for her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, so she has special expertise in the recent history of black America. She starts by detailing the relationship that both Clintons have enjoyed with African-American voters:

Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote
From the crime bill to welfare reform, policies Bill Clinton enacted—and Hillary Clinton supported—decimated black America.

Hillary Clinton loves black people. And black people love Hillary—or so it seems. Black politicians have lined up in droves to endorse her, eager to prove their loyalty to the Clintons in the hopes that their faithfulness will be remembered and rewarded. Black pastors are opening their church doors, and the Clintons are making themselves comfortably at home once again, engaging effortlessly in all the usual rituals associated with “courting the black vote,” a pursuit that typically begins and ends with Democratic politicians making black people feel liked and taken seriously. Doing something concrete to improve the conditions under which most black people live is generally not required.

Hillary is looking to gain momentum on the campaign trail as the primaries move out of Iowa and New Hampshire and into states like South Carolina, where large pockets of black voters can be found. According to some polls, she leads Bernie Sanders by as much as 60 percent among African Americans. It seems that we—black people—are her winning card, one that Hillary is eager to play.

Which sets up her punch line: “And it seems we’re eager to get played. Again.”

The rest of the piece walks through the troubled Clinton legacy — again, both of them, since Hillary strongly and vocally supported the Clinton era policies — and the horrific effect those policies have had on the black community. The overview (my emphasis):

When Bill Clinton ran for president in 1992, urban black communities across America were suffering from economic collapse. Hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs had vanished as factories moved overseas in search of cheaper labor, a new plantation. Globalization and deindustrialization affected workers of all colors but hit African Americans particularly hard. Unemployment rates among young black men had quadrupled as the rate of industrial employment plummeted. Crime rates spiked in inner-city communities that had been dependent on factory jobs, while hopelessness, despair, and crack addiction swept neighborhoods that had once been solidly working-class. Millions of black folks—many of whom had fled Jim Crow segregation in the South with the hope of obtaining decent work in Northern factories—were suddenly trapped in racially segregated, jobless ghettos.

On the campaign trail, Bill Clinton made the economy his top priority and argued persuasively that conservatives were using race to divide the nation and divert attention from the failed economy. In practice, however, he capitulated entirely to the right-wing backlash against the civil-rights movement and embraced former president Ronald Reagan’s agenda on race, crime, welfare, and taxes—ultimately doing more harm to black communities than Reagan ever did. 

Alexander discusses the reasons that black voters “should have seen it coming,” including this chilling detail:

Reagan had won the presidency by dog-whistling to poor and working-class whites with coded racial appeals: railing against “welfare queens” and criminal “predators” and condemning “big government.” Clinton aimed to win them back, vowing that he would never permit any Republican to be perceived as tougher on crime than he.

Just weeks before the critical New Hampshire primary, Clinton proved his toughness by flying back to Arkansas to oversee the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a mentally impaired black man who had so little conception of what was about to happen to him that he asked for the dessert from his last meal to be saved for him for later. After the execution, Clinton remarked, “I can be nicked a lot, but no one can say I’m soft on crime.”

As I said, these are policies that Hillary fully supported at the time. For example, this is Hillary Clinton talking about the 1994 crime bill: “They are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘super-predators.’ No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.” Note the code word “predators” echoing the Reagan-era racist depiction of black criminals.

Both Clintons have since recanted. Alexander notes:

To be fair, the Clintons now feel bad about how their politics and policies have worked out for black people. Bill says that he “overshot the mark” with his crime policies; and Hillary has put forth a plan to ban racial profiling, eliminate the sentencing disparities between crack and cocaine, and abolish private prisons, among other measures.

But is that enough? she asks. It’s a valid question, whether you consider the answer to be yes or no.

Mass Incarceration: The New Housing Program for the Urban Poor

The section on mass incarceration is particularly chilling, especially since many of the non-violent men and women are still in prison. A very small taste of this painful-to-contemplate section of the article:

[T]he Clinton administration didn’t reduce the amount of money devoted to the management of the urban poor; it changed what the funds would be used for. … Billions of dollars were slashed from public-housing and child-welfare budgets and transferred to the mass-incarceration machine. By 1996, the penal budget was twice the amount that had been allocated to food stamps. During Clinton’s tenure, funding for public housing was slashed by $17 billion (a reduction of 61 percent), while funding for corrections was boosted by $19 billion (an increase of 171 percent), according to sociologist Loïc Wacquant “effectively making the construction of prisons the nation’s main housing program for the urban poor.”

Alexander also notes how government statistics, which don’t count the incarcerated in the unemployment rate, hid the true unemployment rate among young black men. “When Clinton left office in 2001, the true jobless rate for young, non-college-educated black men (including those behind bars) was 42 percent.” This section is more than chilling; it’s horrifying.

Sanders Is Not Blameless

Alexander brings Sanders to task as well, and includes many of the offsets to her anti-Clinton argument, such as the fact that black community leaders were similarly concerned with crime in their neighborhoods. She notes: “This is not an endorsement for Bernie Sanders, who after all voted for the 1994 crime bill. I also tend to agree with Ta-Nehisi Coates that the way the Sanders campaign handled the question of reparations is one of many signs that Bernie doesn’t quite get what’s at stake in serious dialogues about racial justice. He was wrong to dismiss reparations as “divisive,” as though centuries of slavery, segregation, discrimination, ghettoization, and stigmatization aren’t worthy of any specific acknowledgement or remedy. But recognizing that Bernie, like Hillary, has blurred vision when it comes to race is not the same thing as saying their views are equally problematic.”

Which leads Alexander to this indictment: “In short, there is such a thing as a lesser evil, and Hillary is not it.”

Moving the Needle?

There’s much more in the article — please do read it through. Whatever position you take, notice first that the argument is nuanced — it acknowledges all of the “yes, but”s that can reasonably be raised — and second, that it’s incredibly well written. (I’m officially jealous of her talent in this regard.)

But this not about Clinton and the arguments for and against her vis-à-vis the African-American community; that’s a question primarily for them to decide. Nor is it about Sanders and what can be said for or against his racial policies and awareness. There’s a lot of “that was then and this is now” one can offer in this discussion.

My real interest in bringing this to your attention is this. The South Carolina primary is February 27. Super Tuesday is three days later, with its cluster of southern and other “more diverse” states. Conventional (and Clinton campaign) wisdom holds that these states are out of Sanders’ reach, that he can never make up the difference in support that the polls, exemplified by the one cited above, show to be great.

Losing 82-8 with African-American voters is the largest differential we’ve seen in this Democratic primary. It’s almost a no-brainer to call the next rounds hers, and it’s not too unreasonable to imagine that the next four weeks or so could be do-or-die for Sanders, regardless of your preference. Still, this is a Black Lives Matter moment — thank god for that; it’s been needed since forever, meaning 1619 — so the electoral outcome could be far from certain.

Given my belief that this election will be the most important in any of our lifetimes, for a variety of reasons, I’m watching the coming contests with great interest. Sanders has promised to take it to the convention, and I’m glad to hear that. What he takes to the convention could be decided very soon, as I see it.

Will thought-leaders in the African-American community, people like Michelle Alexander and former NAACP head Ben Jealous, be able to move the needle sufficiently and in time? We’re clearly into popcorn territory. Stay tuned.

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19 comments

  1. DakotabornKansan

    The union endorsements of Hillary Clinton.

    Phil Ochs song about labor unions selling out comes to my mind:

    “Come you ranks of labor, come you union core
    And see if you remember the struggles of before
    When you were standing helpless on the outside of the door…
    Oh, the automation bosses were laughin’ on the side
    As they watched you lose your link on the chain.” – Phil Ochs, “Links On The Chain”

    And from another Ochs song:

    “Sure, once I was young and impulsive; I wore every conceivable pin,
    Even went to Socialist meetings, learned all the old Union hymns.
    Ah, but I’ve grown older and wiser, and that’s why I’m turning you in.
    So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal.” – Phil Ochs, “Love Me, I’m a Liberal”

    And Jello Biafra’s great update:

    “I go to pro-choice rallies
    Recycle my cans and jars
    I’ll honk if you love the Dead
    Hope those funny Grunge bands become stars
    But don’t talk about revolution
    That’s going a little bit too far.”

    1. Left in Wisconsin

      I wouldn’t be that surprised if the UAW went all in for HRC but the news reports claim the union is still surveying members and has not yet made an endorsement. It’s a pretty centralized union so it would be unusual for regional officials to take a line not authorized by HQ in Detroit. And trade is really the one issue that matters to them.

      UAW struggling to pick between Sanders and Clinton

      One interesting thing in the article: HRC name-dropped the UAW as justification for her support for the Korean free trade deal, for which UAW support was bought by adding some auto-industry-specific language that was supposed to help them. But, shockingly, the union now says the deal has cost 75,000 mfg jobs and they wouldn’t have supported it if they knew how it was going to turn out.

      Of course, that little tidbit also shows how stupid/short-sighted/easily bought off the unions can be. So it doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t go all in for HRC or that they won’t be telling us once TPP passes in lame duck that it’s a done deal and nothing can be done about it.

  2. allan

    For those who have been following the dust-up on Twitter and elsewhere surrounding yesterday’s
    Congressional Black Caucus CBCPAC endorsement of Clinton: The Clinton campaign’s use of John Lewis to attack Sanders’ civil rights bona fides, while brilliant – one might say even Rovian – in the short run, will be incredibly destructive to party cohesion going forward. You have to wonder whether everybody at that press conference knew what was about to go down.

    Le party, c’est moi.

    1. Waking Up

      If the Congressional Black Caucus wants to be remembered as completely irrelevant in Congress, they just did it through endorsement of Clinton.

      1. Ray Phenicie

        The Congressional Black Caucus is relevant for the people in power however and for that need (to have the official seal of approval from many wealthy corporate interests, the groups that essentially run the country) they are very relevant to Congress. When the paymasters of the country get what they need members of the Congressional Black Caucus get what they need-a seat in Congress.

  3. 3.14e-9

    Yesterday Bernie released a new ad, a gut-wrenching, heart-stopping 4-minute video of Erica Garner talking about her father’s murder, her activism, and her support for Bernie Sanders. It already has more than 62k views on her channel, and another 46k+ on Bernie’s channel.

    The firewall has just been attacked with high explosives
    .
    YouTube + /watch?v=Syln8IkOIqc

    1. RP

      twitter’s been blowing up with Michelle Alexander’s piece and the Erica Garner ad. #WhatFirewall showed up this week.

      85% – 15% voters under 30 for Sanders.

      HRC is doomed.

      1. Nathanael

        I’m not actually sure. HRC still has decent chances of winning the nomination due to (a) inertia and low-information voters, and (b) the sheer number of voters over age 55.

        It would be a totally Pyrrhic victory, however. She’d most likely lose to Donald Trump in the general election. Even if by some chance she won the general election, she’d have no coattails due to low voter turnout among the young; and her supporters are dying off, and she’d be positioned to lose massively in 2020. That’s even before we get into her policies.

        This is why it’s very important to me that Bernie wins the nomination. He can beat Trump. (If you support Trump, of course, then you would want Hillary to win the nomination.)

  4. Toni G

    I’m not sure whether you meant to imply this but the UAW has not yet made an endorsement in the presidential race. The only UAW locals in NH are, I believe, small public employee units, but I guess members could have come in to volunteer for Clinton from other states (though not with the official blessing of the UAW). Here in Illinois there is strong rank and file support for Sanders in some locals, as NAFTA has not been forgotten and the TPP engenders fresh anger, but the labor establishment has been so strong for Clinton so that may yet win out in the UAW. One thing that has really puzzled me about Sanders so far has been the fact that he rarely discusses unions or even mentions them on the stump — in fact, Martin O’Malley used to be the only candidate in the debates who would do so (I know, because I was listening specifically for when unions were brought up.) Last night it was Hillary who talked about unions, a few times, and forcefully in her closing. I can only presume that is a tactical decision — that if Sanders starts talking about unions it will provide Clinton with an opening to list all her labor endorsements. But I thought in the question last night about white working class despair he really had an opening to talk about the need to revitalize the labor movement, but he didn’t (he did talk about bad trade deals there, but without making the link to union anger on that front). I get the difficulty he is in with all Hillary’s labor endorsements but he should not cede that ground to her — he can certainly talk about how the corporate/Wall Street nexus has purposely decimated the labor movement which has been a key factor in transfer of wealth to the 1%. Labor’s decline has also been particularly devastating to the black community, which he could note. Bernie is going to have to figure out how to go around the sold-out labor leadership to talk directly to the rank and file, if he genuinely wants to build a political revolution. Anyhow, it galls me that Clinton is gushing about unions and coal miners since thanks to Bill we got NAFTA, the Obama Administration abandoned EFCA, and she helped shill for the TPP. I hope Sanders calls her on that next time.

  5. Toni G

    I’m not sure whether you meant to imply this but the UAW has not yet made an endorsement in the presidential race. The only UAW locals in NH are, I believe, small public employee units, but I guess members could have come in to volunteer for Clinton from other states (though not with the official blessing of the UAW). Here in Illinois there is strong rank and file support for Sanders in some locals, as NAFTA has not been forgotten and the TPP engenders fresh anger, but the labor establishment has been so strong for Clinton so that may yet win out in the UAW. One thing that has really puzzled me about Sanders so far has been the fact that he rarely discusses unions or even mentions them on the stump – in fact, Martin O’Malley used to be the only candidate in the debates who would do so (I know, because I was listening specifically for when unions were brought up.) Last night it was Hillary who talked about unions, a few times, and forcefully in her closing. I can only presume that is a tactical decision – that if Sanders starts talking about unions it will provide Clinton with an opening to list all her labor endorsements. But I thought in the question last night about white working class despair he really had an opening to talk about the need to revitalize the labor movement, but he didn’t (he did talk about bad trade deals there, but without making the link to union anger on that front). I get the difficulty he is in with all Hillary’s labor endorsements but he should not cede that ground to her – he can certainly talk about how the corporate/Wall Street nexus has purposely decimated the labor movement which has been a key factor in transfer of wealth to the 1%. Labor’s decline has also been particularly devastating to the black community, which he could note. Bernie is going to have to figure out how to go around the sold-out labor leadership to talk directly to the rank and file, if he genuinely wants to build a political revolution. Anyhow, it galls me that Clinton is gushing about unions and coal miners since thanks to Bill we got NAFTA, the Obama Administration abandoned EFCA, and she helped shill for the TPP. I hope Sanders calls her on that next time.

  6. Adams

    Sanders has made some general noise in the direction of the importance of unions in reversing both economic and political inequality. Curiously, nothing specific as you point out. It is discouraging to recall Barry’s full throated endorsement of EFCA and his pledge to “wear out some shoe leather” walking the line with threatened union members. ( http://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2011/02/24/obama-breaks-pledge-to-wear-out-some-shoe-leather-in-support-of-collective-bargaining/#6df62c3344e9) So much for Dem promises.

    It is worth considering how differently the gay community fared in repeal of DADT, DOMA and promoting marriage equality. That happened because the big money/leadership in the gay community told Barry that they would not only not support him for reelection but would actively work against him. And their membership would follow. Solidarity.

    Recall also what happened when AARP leadership, wanting to be “grownups” and continue to be invited to those beltway cocktail parties, supported Obama’s Grand Bargain including shift to the “chained CPI.” Membership revolted. AARP recanted.

    Union membership’s first fight is not with Clinton for her neo-lib policies on trade, or even with Republicans who would work to totally crush remaining sectoral areas of union strength. It is with their own, sold out, LOTE, in the bag, establishment leadership.

    Sanders, meanwhile, needs to get Reich on board.

    1. dk

      Agreed in all respects. I am concerned that Sanders’ team is generally younger and may not have the depth of experience in argument and historic context to bring out the best in their candidate… the echo-chamber effect diminishes signal detail. Reich would be a bit risky due to his support of NAFTA while he was Labor secretary, but I think the risk is worth the benefit.

  7. Gio Bruno

    I think Yves got it right. Especially when one is seeking votes in Nevada. The total number of Blacks in Nevada is less than 10% (~9%). The number able to caucus is much less. Latinos make up about 25% of the Nevada population, but again less than that are able to caucus and vote. Nevada only has two major population centers: Las Vegas in the south and Reno in the north (Las Vegas is much larger than Reno).

    Getting the Latino vote is imperative to winning in Nevada.

  8. TG

    I would suggest that the old civil right movement has morphed into a con. It’s a small number of upper-middle class black professionals that sell out the black community for money in order to keep the gravy train going. Barack Obama is perhaps the premier exemplar of this class. Hillary, as a corporate shill joined at the hip to Wall Street, and no black competitor like Obama, pretty much owns this class. They have to rally black support to Hillary to keep their stations, and I suspect, they will.

    1. pdxjoan

      Good point, TG. Yet another example of “pulling up the ladder behind you”, or “I’ve got mine, you get yours.” There are too many people, regardless of race, ethnicity or class, who become self-serving sociopaths once they have amassed a certain amount of wealth and/or power.

  9. GAFC

    The black vote? Really? How could any educated, intelligent black person vote for Hillary Clinton? And you don’t have to have gone to school to be intelligent, by the way. You could be poor and living in slums and be brilliant. Blacks be warned: Hillary is not your friend. Just like she isn’t the Latino’s amiga or abuela. She’s a sociopath who will tell you anything to get what she wants…..Do your own research on Hillary Clinton admiring Margaraet Sanger –the woman who said blacks should be exterminated because they “are like weeds.”

    http://liberty247.net/hillary-clintons-racist-hero/

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