Hillary Clinton’s Private Meeting with #BlackLivesMatter in Keene, New Hamphire

Readers, you will remember that we like to use our magic markers to color important speeches, both to highlight the use of rhetorical figures for emulation or mockery, and to call bullshit where needed. So I thought I’d take a look at the closed-door encounter on August 11, 2015 in Keene, New Hampshire, between #BlackLivesMatter (BLM) of Boston and Worcester and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner in the race for President of the United States.

Since the encounter was video-taped, we have a transcript. We also now have, if not a set of demands, a policy agenda from #BlackLivesMatter–more precisely, from a subset or offshoot of BLM called We The Protesters–as well as an explanation of the tactical thinking behind the form their intervention took from the Boston BLM intervenors themselves.

So with this material in hand, I think it’s worth a breaking out the magic markers once more. The following table explains the coding; I’ll only color-code Clinton’s material, but I’ll add footnotes to all material.

Spoiler: To me, the point of posts like this is the remorseless and brutal accumulation of detail that a close reading brings. But there’s also a gotcha, albeit smallish, so here’s a link for those who can’t wait and want to skip ahead.

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Category Note

Secular religion

A mish-mash of phrases from the Framers, Lincoln and MLK echoes, and so forth


Bathos is an abrupt transition in style from the exalted to the commonplace

Neo-liberal catchphrase

“Free market,” “innovation,” “hard choices” etc.


“Our most vulnerable citizens”

Bipartisan shibboleth

“The troops,” for example

Dead metaphors/cliche

“Ring the changes on,” “take up the cudgel for,” “toe the line,” “ride roughshod over,” etc. (Orwell)

Sheer nonsense

Word salad
Falsehood or truthiness A terminological inexactitude
Equivocation Lawyerly parsing and weasel wording


“Ladies and gentleman,” and so forth.

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And with that, to the transcript from Crew of 42:

QUESTION: But your–you and your family1 have been personally and politically2 responsible for policies that have caused Health and Human Services disasters in impoverished communities of color (inaudible) the domestic and international War on Drugs3 that you championed as First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State. And so I just want to know how you feel about your role in that violence and how you plan to reverse it?

1. Of course, wife, husband, and daughter are three separate people, so ordinarily I’d take issue with this formulation. But the Clinton family is a dynasty, just like the Bushes are, and one can hold members of a dynasty accountable for the actions of a dynasty as a whole.

2. That time, just before the 1992 New Hampshire primary, when Governor Bill Clinton returned to Arkansas to affirm that the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a brain-damaged black man, would continue on schedule. Which it did.

3. Michelle Alexander: "State and local law enforcement agencies have been rewarded in cash for the sheer numbers of people swept into the system for drug offenses, thus giving law enforcement agencies an incentive to go out and look for the so-called ‘low-hanging fruit’: stopping, frisking, searching as many people as possible, pulling over as many cars as possible, in order to boost their numbers up and ensure the funding stream will continue or increase." Ka-ching.

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, you know, I feel strongly,1 which is why I had this town hall today.2 And as the questions and comments from people illustrated, there’s a lot of concern that we need to rethink and redo what we did in response to a different set of problems.3

And you know, in life, in politics, in government–you name it–you’ve got to constantly be asking yourself, "Is this working? Is this not?" and if it’s not, what do we do better? 4 And that’s what I’m trying to do now5 on drugs, on mass incarceration, on police behavior and criminal justice reform. Because I do think that there was a different set of concerns back in the ‘80s and the early ‘90s. And now I believe that we have to look at the world as it is today and try and figure out what will work now. And that’s what I’m trying to figure out and that’s what I intend to do as president.6,7,8

1. About what? Feel what?

2. It is? Really?

3. The War on Drugs rewarded police in cash for arresting people. That’s law enforcement for profit ("End For-Profit Policing" is BLM Policy #8). If that’s a problem now, it was a problem then. What "different set" of problems is Clinton talking about? She doesn’t say.

4. I’m not big on display of emotion (more below). But this characterization of mass incarceration is almost surreally detached.

5. "Trying" to ask "is this working"? "Trying" to see what to "do better"? "Now"? Not before? Sets a low bar for the candidate with years of policy experience.

6. Nonsense. The executive branch is called the executive branch because it executes, and not like Ricky Ray Rector, either. We don’t elect Presidents on the basis that they’re going to "try" to figure out stuff.

7. Clinton completely evades the question. She doesn’t answer "how you feel" or "how you plan to reverse [the violence]." Like Syriza, she has a plan to try to have a plan.

8. It’s a shame and a missed opportunity that the Campaign Zero policy solutions were not available at the time of this meeting. "Here ya go. You don’t have to try to figure out a thing. We’ve got this."

QUESTION: Yeah. And I would offer that it didn’t work then1, either, and that those policies were actually extensions of white supremacist violence against communities of color. And so I just think I want to hear a little bit about that, about the fact that actually while–

1. Clinton, by focusing on "a different set of concerns" in the 80’s and 90’s, has now managed to drag the questioner onto her ground. The issue of "How you plan to reverse it" has now been forgotten. She will exploit this further in a moment.

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, I’m not sure1

1. Clinton not buying "white supremacist violence."

QUESTION: –those policies were being enacted, they were ripping apart families and actually causing death.

HILLARY CLINTON: Now, I’m not sure I agree with you. I’m not sure I disagree that any kind of government action often has1 consequences.2 And certainly, the War on Drugs, which was started back in the ‘80s3, has had consequences. Increasing penalties for crime and "three strikes and you’re out" and all of those kinds of actions have consequences.

1. Contrast the questioner’s "ripping apart families" and "actually causing death" with Clinton’s detached "consequences." And am I the only one who finds the connotation of "actions have consequences" just a little fingerwagging?

2. With the thrice-repeated "consequences," Clinton employs epistrophe, "ending a series of lines, phrases, clauses, or sentences with the same word or words." And, like death, the word "consequences" comes at the end.

3. Shifting responsibility onto Reagan. Bill Clinton, apparently, can admit what Hillary Clinton cannot. Salon: "In a speech to the NAACP national convention, Clinton very prominently echoed earlier statements of regret about contributing to indiscriminate mass incarceration with his signature crime bill, the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. ‘I signed a bill that made the problem worse and I want to admit it,’ Clinton said. He did not disavow everything in the law, but increased incarceration was a central feature of it, and the fact that he admitted it made things worse was rightly seen as a major reversal."

(CLINTON, continues:) But it’s important to remember–and I certainly remember1–that there was a very serious crime wave that was impacting primarily communities of color and poor people. And part of it was that there was just not enough attention paid.2 So you know, you could argue3 that people who were trying to address that–including my husband, when he was President–were responding to the very real concerns of people in the communities themselves.4

1. Clinton pulling rank.

2. What does this even mean? Is it a Death of a Salesman reference? What?

3. You could. Are you?

4. The political calculus of the time was that Democrats had to be "tough on crime." It’s hard to believe that the concerns of the communities were a higher priority with them. At the same time, that doesn’t mean that those concerns weren’t real. James Forman: "Rising levels of violent crime and demands by black activists for harsher sentences have no place in the New Jim Crow account of mass incarceration’s rise. As a result, the Jim Crow analogy promotes a reductive account of mass incarceration’s complex history in which, as Alexander puts it, ‘proponents of racial hierarchy found they could install a new racial caste system.’ … The Harlem NAACP’s push for tougher crime laws raises an important question: If many black citizens supported the policies that produced mass imprisonment , how can it be regarded as the New Jim Crow?"


1. Ouch. Clinton now in full flow. The very first question–"How you plan to reverse it"–has been allowed to go unanswered. Responsibility has been shifted back to the Reagan era. She will "try." And that is as specific as she will get on policy.

HILLARY CLINTON: Now, I do think that a lot of what was tried and how it was implemented has not produced the kinds of outcomes that any of us would want.1 But I also believe that there are systemic issues of race and justice that go deeper than any particular law.2 And part of what we have to do is address the laws. And then we’ve got to do a much better effort3,4 at being honest about the other obstacles and barriers that stand in the way of young people and others having any hope5 and having any opportunity.

1. Except for those who profit from it, at the very least. Or those who ran and won elections on it. Again, notice the bloodless language of "outcomes," in contrast to "ripping apart families" and "death."

2. Except that the "1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act" made things worse, at least according to Bill Clinton. So the Clinton Dynasty is responsible for part of the deepening.

3. "Trying" again. Could we not be honest, as opposed to making an effort to be honest?

4. "Make an effort," not "do an effort."

5. Highlighting the 2008 reference. "Change" will be around in a moment.

(CLINTON, continues:) But I think that, as I said, some of this is coming about today because of the terrible instances of violence1 that we have seen2 across our country. And I wouldn’t–you know, I wouldn’t in any way deny how powerful those have been and how they have to produce change.3 So what you’re doing as activists and as people who are constantly raising these issues is really important. So I applaud and thank you for that. I really do.4 Because we can’t get change5 unless there’s constant pressure.6

1. Note lack of agency. Whose violence?

2. To some, violence is not a spectacle; not seen, but experienced.

3. What does this even mean? "Powerful" in what way? Why do "they" (what or who?) have to "produce change"? What kind of change?

4. Good.

5. Told ya.

6. Ah, the old "make me do it" ploy, which Obama deployed to such good effect. The question Clinton does not address is what other pressures are in play. Surely not only those mean Republicans? Bruce Dixon:

At one such event President Obama approached [Harry Belafonte] to inquire when Belafonte and Cornel West were going "to cut me some slack."
"What makes you think we haven’t?" Belafonte replied to the president? At this point the brief encounter was over.
Let’s pause to think about that. When President Obama cusses out Cornel West and personally demands that historic stalwarts of the movement for peace and justice "cut him some slack" on black unemployment, on foreclosures and the prison state, on torture and the military budget, on unjust wars and corporate welfare, on fulfilling the just demands of those who elected him, our first black president is revealing his real self. Far from saying "make me do it," President Obama is saying how dare you pressure me to do what you elected me to do.
Returning to the transcript:


1. Ouch.

HILLARY CLINTON: But now, the next step–so, you know, part of you1 need2 to keep the pressure on, and part of you need to figure out, what do we do now? How are we going to do it?

1. Agency confusion. Who is "you"? BLM Boston? BLM? Protesters generally? Young people?

2. Clinton assigning tasks, now, and dividing the relatively unstructured BLM firmly into leaders and followers. The irony, of course, is that had the "We the Protesters" policy agenda been available to BLM Boston, the "what do we do now" part would have been handled, and Clinton could have been challenged on policy.

(CLINTON, continues:) You know, one of the men who asked me the–asked me a question today, you know, was talking about how as a young man he was thrown out of his house and ended up in foster care. He was, you know, abused, molested, then turned to drugs and alcohol. Very common story1, as you know, right? And then, you know, he has a blackout and ends up that he killed somebody, ends up in prison. And so he’s saying, like, "When do I get my life back? I made a mistake, but when do I get my life back?" 2

1. Clinton pulling rank again. And very detached language.

2. I think Clinton must be attempting to show empathy with the incarcerated, but that’s not clear from the actual language. Or Clinton unconsciously wishes she had her life back, as opposed to being imprisoned by the campaign.

(CLINTON, continues:) So I think there has to be–in addition to the consciousness race1, which you really have done the lion’s share of the work in bringing out2–now we’ve got to figure out, okay, what are we going to do, and how are we going to do it?3 Because the first speech I gave in this campaign was on mass incarceration.4 It’s a problem I’ve been worried about, thinking about it. The other day, a friend of mine asked me to come speak at his conference in Columbia, and I said, "You know, we can’t–we’ve got to change it." How do we change it, and how do we have the opportunities for reintegration that these young people deserve to have?

1. Clinton must mean "consciousness raising", a form of activism characteristic of 60s and 70s feminism.

2. Typically, one doesn’t equate "nearly 100%" with "the lion’s share." BLM is the driving force here.

3. "Trying" to "figure out" again.

4. No. Here are Clinton’s complete remarks on mass incarceration in her campaign kickoff speech on Roosevelt island (from the transcript of the speech as delivered):

The unequal rates of incarceration is [sic] a family issue.

That’s it. This is in no sense a speech "on" "mass incarceration," and Clinton doesn’t even use the word "mass." To be fair, this claim may depend on what the meaning of "first" is; Clinton did give a good speech on "mass incarceration" on April 29. However, by the time the official launch rolled around on June 13, Clinton had demoted mass incarceration to a single throwaway line, and placed it in a right wing, "family values" frame, and not the frame of injustice and violence that BLM propose. And presumably, the purpose of a kick-off speech is to set the tone for the entire campaign. So I would at least add nuance to BLM member Julius Jones’s assessment: "[I]t was a very candid, open and honest and frank Hillary Clinton."

(CLINTON, continues:) So we1 need a whole comprehensive plan2–that I am more than happy to work with you guys on [sic]–to try to figure out3, okay, we know black lives matter4. We need to keep saying it so that people accept it. What do we do next? What is our step?5

1. Having organized "you" and divided them into leaders and followers, Clinton now deftly incorporates "you" into "we" (the Democratic Party or the Clinton network dynasty, it’s not clear).

2. Again, at the time unfortunately not on offer from BLM.

3. "Trying" again.

4. Good! (But why not lead with it?)

5. By now, Clinton has evaded BLM’s original question–"How you plan to reverse it"–and transformed the answer into a project in which "we" are to engage, one with no policy concrete proposals and unknown outcomes.

QUESTION: I think that the next step, respectfully, and I have attempted to allow you, and I feel like we have allowed space for a nice conversation and it is a pleasure and an honor to be in this dialogue with you1 but I think that a huge part of what you haven’t said is that you have offered a recognition that mass incarceration has not worked2, and that it is an unfortunate consequence of government practices that just didn’t work.

1. This language still seems extraordinarily deferential to me. And speaking of deference, on the question of "Why O’Malley (once) and Sanders (twice), but not Clinton," BLM member Daunasia Yancey had this to say on Democracy Now:

Every presidential candidate should expect to hear from us and expect to be held accountable. It’s actually a practice called "power mapping," where it’s similar to lobbying, where you actually map who’s closest to you on the issue and go to those folks first in order to force them to articulate their stance and then hold them accountable to it. So this movement is very strategic, and that’s what we’ve been doing.

At this point, let me caveat that I generally agree with Yancey; I’ve consistently called BLM "disciplined," "strategic," and "focused"; all this is obvious from a careful look at their tactics, especially in the early days. That said, I have to question whether Clinton is being "forced to articulate her stance" in this meeting. She hasn’t ever answered the first question ("How you plan to reverse it"). And Bill Clinton seems more willing to be held "accountable" for, say, the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act than candidate Clinton, who tries to shove responsibility off onto the Reagan administration. Contrast the "nice conversation" here with what Julius Jones said on Democracy Now:

JULIUS JONES: I feel like [Sanders’] addition of racial justice to his platform has been a good step in the right direction. What he’s asked folks to do is to be patient with him and to trust that he will be the best candidate to advance this type of agenda. And I think that even he, who is arguably on the cutting edge of this issue, does not understand the emergency, the urgency that we’re in, in the struggle, because it’s not just an item on a long list of agendas in the United States for most of us. It’s our families being devastated, in the slow form, through poverty, the loaded gun that is poverty, that the black community has had. It’s faster in the prison, like with families who are broken up by their family members being in prison. And then it’s the rapid, violent version in police brutality. Last time I checked, The Counted project, who’s keeping track of police murders, police killings in the United States, it’s up to 731. It’s on pace to topple a thousand. And proportionately, it’s disproportionately against black people. We have live statistics that are showing the urgency of this, unlike ever before. And Bernie Sanders is not treating it justly.

Fair enough, in that I don’t think anybody in the political class has treated this disproportion "justly." I mean, that’s one reason there is a #BlackLivesMatter, yes? But if Sanders is "arguably on the cutting edge" of the issue, that would imply that Clinton is arguably not. So I’m not clear what it is about "power mapping" that demands that one characterize a meeting with those farther away from the cutting edge as "a pleasure and an honor," but not those closer to it. From my armchair at 30,000 feet, the discrepancy is puzzling, precisely because I view BLM as being so strategic. Personally, I’d find more pleasure and honor in getting an answer to the question "How you plan to reverse it."

2. Clinton’s gambit of talking only about the past continues to pay off for her.

Back to the transcript:

QUESTION (continued): But the truth is that there is an extremely long history of unfortunate government practices that don’t work that particularly affect Black people and Black families, and until we as a country, and then the person who’s in the seat that you seek, actually addresses the anti-Blackness current that is America’s first drug. We’re in a meeting about drugs. America’s first drug is free black labor, and turning black bodies into profit and the mass incarceration system mirrors an awful lot like the prison plantation system.1 It’s a similar thread, and until someone takes that message and speaks that truth to White people in this country so that we can actually take on anti-Blackness as a founding problem in this country, I don’t believe that there is going to be a solution.

1. Yes, but Clinton will not be able to accept this, any more than she was able to accept "white supremacy." (And while I like the metaphor that "America’s first drug is free black labor," I’m not sure how useful it would be to a mass audience beyond BLM.)

Because what the conversations that are happening now and why there is so much cohesion across the divide, the red side and the blue side, it’s because of money, right, we are spending a lot of money on prisons. We’re spending more money on prisons than we are on schools, but if we look at it from lens of let’s solve this financial problem, and we don’t look at the greater bottom line that African-Americans who are Americans are suffering at greater rates than most other people, every other people, for the length of this country then it’s not going to go away. It’s just going to morph into something new and evolved.1 You know, I genuinely want to know, you, Hillary Clinton, have been in no uncertain way, partially responsible for this. More than most. There may have been unintended consequences.

1. Yes. But Clinton will not be able to accept this either. (Some have viewed this analysis as a slam at Sanders, but I disagree; the relation between race and class is problematic, generally.)

But now that you understand the consequences, what in your heart has changed1 that’s going to change the direction of this country? Like what in you–not your platform, not the things you’re supposed to say–like, how do you actually feel that’s different than you did before? Like what were the mistakes, and how can those mistakes that you made be lessons for all of America for a moment of reflection on how we treat black people in this country?

1. We have no answer to "How you plan to reverse it," and perhaps that is the best indication of what is in Clinton’s heart. ("We are what we repeatedly do," as Aristotle says.) The same "in your heart" nonsense was applied to Bill Clinton, too. For example:

"My personal opinion is that in his heart of hearts he’s against the death penalty," Mr. Rosenzweig said of Mr. Clinton. "In my opinion, this is a very easy way to show you’re tough on crime."

This after Bill Clinton executed Ricky Ray Rector! In general, 21st century America tends to treat certain virtues of the heart–like "passion," or "sincerity," or "courage"–as values, when in fact they are value-neutral. There were plenty of slaveholders, after all, who were courageous in defending the Confederacy, and had a sincerely-held, passionate belief that slavery was a positive good (often based on their interpretations of the Bible). In general, I think we could do with less psychologizing about "the heart," and more focus on performance (see the Candidate Tracking Document at note 1).

SPEAKER: I just wanted to say apologies.1 We have–

1. Staffer running interference to help Clinton evade both " turning black bodies into profit" and revealing what, if anything, is in her heart.

QUESTION: I would really love for her to answer this question. We’ve worked really hard. We’ve driven so many hours.

SPEAKER: We have to stop before–I’m just letting you know, we have a couple more answers left, more people (inaudible). I’m not interrupting what you’re about to say, I’m just doing you a heads up on timing.

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, it’s a very thoughtful question, and here’s a thoughtful answer. And I can only tell you that I feel very committed to and responsible for doing whatever I can.1 I spent most of my adult life focused on kids, from the Children’s Defense Fund and then efforts to try to give kids–particularly poor kids, particularly, you know, black kids and Hispanic kids–the same chance to live up to their God-given potential. And that’s where I’ve been focused.

And I think that there has to be a reckoning.2 I agree with that. But I also think there has to be some positive vision and plan that you can move people toward. Once you say, I mean, this country has still not recovered from it’s original sin3–which is true–once you say that, then the next question, by people who are on the sidelines–which is the vast majority of Americans–the next question is, "Well, what do you want me to do about it? What am I supposed to do about it?"4

1. Unspecified.

2. Unspecified.

3. A serious framing from Methodist Clinton.

4. Again, the missed opportunity to prevent the policy agenda of We The Protesters, and again, Clinton’s refusal to say anything on the topic of"How you plan to reverse it."

(CLINTON continues:) That’s what I’m trying1 to put together in a way that I can explain and I can sell it.2 Because in politics, if you can’t explain it and you can’t sell it, it stays on its shelf. And this is now a time–a moment in time, just like the Civil Rights Movement or the women’s movement or the gay rights movement or a lot of other movements reached a point in time–the people behind that consciousness raising and advocacy, they had a plan3 ready to go. So that when you turn to, you know, the women’s movement–we want to pass this and we want to pass that and we want to do this–problems are not taken care of, we know that.

1. "Trying." Remarkably, Clinton, the politician, puts a political question, a framing issue, on BLM’s desk. Don’t the Democrats have consultants for that? Idea: Ask John Podesta.

2. That humongous shop in Brooklyn hasn’t been able to come up with anything? A few talking points? Given six weeks after the April speech? Could it be that BLM just wasn’t a priority, then or not?

3. Again, the missed opportunity. And see the Candidate Tracking Document in note 1 for how much Clinton has signed on for.

(CLINTON continues:) Obviously, I know more about the Civil Rights Movement in the old days, because I had a lot of involvement in working with people. So they had a plan–this piece of legislation, this court case we’re going to make, et cetera, et cetera. Same with the gay rights movement. You know, we’re sick of homophobia. We’re sick of being discriminated against. We want marriage equality. We’re starting in the states, and we’re going to keep going until we get it at the highest court in the land.

So all I’m saying is, your analysis is totally fair. It’s historically fair. It’s psychologically fair. It’s economically fair.1 But you’re going to have to come together as a movement and say, "Here’s what we want done about it."2, 3 Because you can get lip service from as many white people as you can pack into Yankee Stadium and a million more like it, who are going to say, "Oh, we get it. We get it. We’re going to be nicer."

1. Good.

2. Assigning tasks again.

3. Again, the missed opportunity. And see the Candidate Tracking Document in note 1 for how much Clinton has signed on for (not much).

(CLINTON continues:) That’s not enough–at least in my book. That’s not how I see politics.1 So the consciousness-raising, the advocacy, the passion, the youth of your movement is so critical.2 But now all I’m suggesting is — even for us sinners — find some common ground on agendas that can make a difference right here and now in people’s lives, and that’s what I would love to have your thoughts about, because that’s what I’m trying3 to figure out how to do.

1. "Not enough." What would be enough? "Not how I see." How do you see?

2. Along with the analysis and the data, no?

3. "Trying."

(CLINTON continues:) So yea, deal with mass incarceration. You know, it’s not just an economic issue — although I grant that some of you will see it like that. But it’s more than that and I think there is a sense that, low level offenders [inaudible] treatment, we’ve got to do something about that. I think that a lot of the issues about housing and about job opportunities — "Ban The Box" — a lot of these things, let’s get an agenda that addresses as much of the problem as we can. Because then you can be for something, in addition to getting people to have to admit that they’re part of a long history in our country of, you know, either, you know, proposing, supporting, condoning discrimination, segregation, etc. Now, what do we do next? And that’s, that’s what I’m trying1 to figure out in my campaign, so that’s what I’m doing.

1. "Trying."

QUESTION: The piece that’s most important, and I stand here in your space1, and I say this as respectfully as I can,2 but you don’t tell black people what we need to know. And we won’t tell you all what you need to do.3

1. A campaign is a public space. The space is theirs as much as hers.

2. Again, the strategy behind the deference is lost on me.

3. Concisely put. Too bad the fact that Clinton never addressed the first question–"How you plan to reverse it"–wasn’t hammered home.

HILLARY CLINTON: I’m not telling you–I’m just telling you1 to tell me.

1. Oh!

QUESTION: What I mean to say is–this is and has always been a white problem of violence. It’s not–there’s not much that we can do to stop the violence against us.

HILLARY CLINTON: Well if that–

QUESTION: And it’s a conversation to push back–

HILLARY CLINTON: Okay, Okay, I understand what you’re saying–

QUESTION: Respectfully, respectfully–

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, respectfully, if that is your position then I will talk only to white people1 about how we are going to deal with the very real problems

1. Yikes. Clinton, the policy wonk, doesn’t get to lay the burden of a policy agenda on BLM, even if they later generously provided one. The questioner rightly calls Clinton out on her task assignment, and Clinton converts that into "if that is your position then I will talk only to white people." And "respectfully" doesn’t help.

QUESTION: That’s not what I mean. That’s not what I mean.1 But like what I’m saying is what you just said was a form of victim-blaming. Right you were saying that what the Black Lives Matter movement needs to do to change white hearts–

1. Of course it wasn’t.

HILLARY CLINTON: Look I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate.1 You’re not going to change every heart. You’re not.2 But at the end of the day, we could do a whole lot to change some hearts and change some systems and create more opportunities for people who deserve to have them, to live up to their own God-given potential, to live safely without fear of violence in their own communities, to have a decent school, to have a decent house, to have a decent future. So we can do it one of many ways. You can keep the movement going, which you have started, and through it you may actually change some hearts. But if that’s all that happens, we’ll be back here in 10 years having the same conversation.3 We will not have all of the changes that you deserve to see happen in your lifetime because of your willingness to get out there and talk about this.

1. In a complex, multi-causal system, laws, hearts, and resources all change each other. For example, I would bet giving the police cash to arrest people ended up changing their hearts, and the hearts of the people they arrested.

2. Straw manning.

3. Straw manning. Clinton is asking–rather, demanding–that a protest movement solve her political problems, write her policy agenda–which We The Protesters has now actually done–and, for all I know, draft the model legislation. And what is Clinton going to do in aid of this? Well, she’s going to "try."


HILLARY CLINTON: Well I’m ready to get out and do my part in any way that I can.1

1. Idea: Answer the very first question: "How you plan to reverse it"?

* * *

When I looked at Clinton’s speech on the economy, I said to watch for:

1) Haziness: What does this mean?
2) Lack of agency: Who’s responsible?
3) Unclear constituencies: Who benefits?
4) Kicking the can: What’s the program?

All these characteristics are on fully display in Clinton’s interactions with BLM.

Haziness: Clinton’s responses are a sea of lawyerly evasions, deflections, distractions, and, at the end, straw manning.

Lack of Agency: Watch Clinton’s use of "we" and "you" carefully. It’s never precisely clear who she is addressing.

Unclear constituencies: A discussion of winners and losers from, say, eliminating mass incarceration is never seriously addressed. Whose rice bowl gets broken?

Kicking the can: As I keep pointing out, she never answered the protester’s first question: "How you plan to reverse it"? Instead, she assigns that to the protesters as a task. I just think that’s remarkable, given the policy resources available to the Clinton campaign.

Turning to BLM, they never laid a glove on her, though they stated their own positions clearly. That’s no knock on them; Clinton is a seasoned, hardened professional. I could have wished that the Campaign Zero materials from We The Protesters had been available to present to Clinton during this meeting, but BLM is not, as it were, a Leninist, top-down party, so all one can do is regret the missed opportunity. More seriously–putting my former debater’s hat on for a moment–BLM played the set-up perfectly: They asked her a question — “How you plan to reverse it” — that she did not answer. Unfortunately, by not hammering home the fact that Clinton never answered it, they let her slither away into generalities, instead of cornering her. In fact, they helped her escape, by focusing on history and the "heart." Finally, I remain puzzled by the extreme and disproportionate deference shown by BLM to Clinton, because I can’t see what strategic purpose it can possibly serve.

Oh, and Clinton campaign staffers? We don’t elect Presidents to “try.”


[1] The Campaign Zero site has a useful "Candidate Tracking Document" that tabulates the solutions candidates have proposed to the problems identified by "We the Protesters. " Here’s a small image; you can see which candidate has the most blanks:

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. tegnost

    From my trusty yoda coffee cup, (a 20 ouncer, so it means what it says!) “Do or do not, there is no try”…

  2. redleg

    My contempt for corrupt and morally bankrupt political dynasties is palpable.
    What a steaming pile of used cat food, the same brand that these neolibreal kleptogarchs expect us to eat.

    I’d rather have a real Republican fascist win and face the inevitable blowback, violent or not, than have another Dem neoliberal pig win and make the GOP appear to be a reasonable alternative.


    1. jrs

      nothingburger comes to mind reading Hillary’s meeting, but it probably tastes better. Nothingcatfoodburger maybe. That’s Hillary!

  3. Eureka Springs

    Nineteen times. That’s how many times Clinton says “you know” in this post. I think I was less annoyed by Nixon’s long Uhhhhh’s.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Oooh, good call. I should have grep’ed for verbal patterning like that.

      And yeah, Nixon. There was a President. He had a conscience, even if it was terribly sick.

      1. Philip Jensen

        I have the same problem with this same filler phrase when speaking… I’m surprised she hasn’t fixed this. Toastmasters broke me of this habit pretty quickly.


        “You know…”

        For the inner mystic in all of us. The repetition of “you know” as filler suggests some unspoken knowledge between and behind language. At its heart “you know” is the opposite of “I mean;” while “I mean” is practical, reinforcing communication, “you know” acknowledges that communication is impossible, or, rather, that all has already been communicated. It also inspires in listeners the question: Do I know? What do I know? But don’t get it twisted; this filler phrase is not supposed to create a crisis in either speaker or audience. Like all of these examples, “you know” is the invocation of a process, one which both questions and answers the state of knowing in the conversation. You know?

        As with all mystical phrases, “you know” is at its heart empowering.

        1. nat scientist

          “You know” is a command. Whether “you know” or not, the future records you now know as knowing from this point out, a given, you know…. The Donald Rumsfeld’s unknown known is a savage at heart.

  4. alex morfesis

    bacon lettuce and mayonnaise (BLM) sandwich doesn’t stand a chance…but they got their 15 minutes…if this is the best that can to put forward…

    oh well…back to the rays…go st. pete…

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      One problem with “#BLM” is the “agitators” of the 1950’s and 60’s were just first rate intellects who had really studied the problems. Their stunts were carefully planned. Rosa Parks wasn’t a kid, but her incident wasn’t a random event. She rode that route with the intent of causing an incident and the subsequent boycott and support for the boycott was ready to roll.

      This group wasnt ready to talk or raise questions even with Sanders, O’Malley or Netroot Nations. The old SNCC would never be caught unprepared. Of course, membership wasn’t a free flowing affair.

  5. Adam

    Agreed, very useful — and fun.

    One thing I noticed not mentioned, Clinton’s only hints at a solution were appeals to “opportunity” — we need “job opportunities”; I did such and such with children, so they could have “the same chance to live up to their God-given potential”; we need to “create more opportunities for people who deserve to have them, to live up to their own God-given potential,” which is to include the right “to live safely without fear of violence in their own communities,” which sounds more like an appeal to ‘black on black crime’ than police violence.

    So her only half-answer is an appeal to economic opportunity, for “people who deserve to have them,” despite her subtle dig slid in earlier towards people, meaning Bernie, who supposedly ignore race and only focus on class.

    It’s the same race-blind, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps, ultra-capitalist, neoliberal Bill Cosby mentality (as in, ignore race and prosper by acting more white, not as in rape whatever you can — but that too, maybe)

    Also, I think you should’ve added like six tags on this sentence:

    “I know more about the Civil Rights Movement in the old days, because I had a lot of involvement in working with people.”

  6. kevinearick

    First comes the demographic war, then the financial war, and then the physical war. Say bye-bye to the drive-by Christians on your way out the door. This has always been about the international bond market, and if you look back, you will see the critical blows. Funny, what you learn studying Navy over a lifetime.

    Hit the body hard enough, and the head presents itself. I wonder if the upper middle class is cognizant enough to know that their wealth is debt. That’s selective government breeding for you.

    1. kevinearick

      Margaret Higgins Sanger’s ‘race of thoroughbreds’ coming back to bite her followers.

    2. economicminor


      ” That’s selective government breeding for you.”

      That’s the Ostrich Society led by the Marie Antoinettes!

    3. Skippy

      “That’s selective government breeding for you.”

      Skippy…. silly me I thought it was the ruling classes inbreeding and environmental conditioning.

  7. V. Arnold

    Thanks for this; I hope it’s widely read.
    I for one didn’t need this very useful “translation”; Clinton’s body language alone told the whole story.
    Her platitudes were just pathetic; phoney, phoney, phoney…
    Wake up America; your last chance is here; don’t blow it.

    1. jrs

      It has the feel to me of rewriting history, only a history that a certain amount of the audience is old enough to remember, the Clinton era, which is a pretty brazen thing to do. It pleads for putting things in their historical context. I suppose this might be acceptable if controversial if we were arguing about say Thomas Jefferson, but no the context is concern about crime in the 90s. I don’t recall crime being that much of a problem then. Ok I searched. The violent crime rate was higher then than now, it really has plummeted to an all time low, but it was midpoint then as well, nowhere near the high. So I suppose she could plausibly claim to have been more worried about crime and unaware (yea right) of the consequences for black America.

      Then both BLM and Hillary seem to want to drag it into a conversation about collective white guilt. Most of white America zones out, another “conversation about race”? Some white Americans are racist, some white Americans have economic power (to hire and fire etc.), some racist white Americans are cops and cops of other races may be no better and just as racist. And racists may aid and abet the system. But it’s still awfully strange to talk about generalized white guilt on the steps of Mordor talking to a representative of the ruling class itself, the very power structure, whose hands are so directly bloody.

      Meanwhile Hillary sounds like a real hard line leftist with: you don’t change hearts you change laws and economic structures and so on. Amen Hillary. If only she meant it. While BLM wastes energy worrying about HIllary’s heart (but what about Dick Cheyney’s heart huh?), though they got a few good lines in at the beginning.

  8. TheCatSaid

    “I remain puzzled by the extreme and disproportionate deference shown by BLM to Clinton, because I can’t see what strategic purpose it can possibly serve. “

    The disproportionate deference shown by BLM to Clinton is a reflection of the very real power difference between Clinton and BLM’s other targets to date.

    More bluntly, it reflects fear.

    1. JTFaraday

      yeah, I think BS is more or less a few strides away from a college professor, (only without the power).

  9. Praedor

    It’s not that hard to get some actual policy statements out there without thinking you first need to “triangulate” a response after you are elected. Meh. She’s literally a pure triangulater, same as Bill. Don’t have any core beliefs, don’t have any hard-set policies, oh no. You first do polling of the left and right, then triangulate a middle mushy policy between the two, principles be damned. Here’s some policies for ya, free of charge Clinton:

    1. Policy to PARDON all incarcerated people in on non-violent drug offenses.
    2. End all three-strikes laws.
    3. Crack WAY down on police violence, de-militarize the police (that stuff’s only for SWAT in special circumstances).
    4. Terminate policing for profit.
    5. End privatized prisons. Full stop.

    Those are starters.

  10. nat scientist

    Looks like the BLWithAttitude have met the forked-tongued Clinton Charlatan twin and have deconstructed her spaghetti narratives, now facing being forked around as left-over scrap for the raccoons to gnaw on in the back yard. Biden is what’s for breakfast. Yummy, but democracy in 1789 or 1776 was not written up for the chattel and TV-educated.

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