“The law-abiding citizens of this country have made their voices heard. Never again should Washington put politics and party above law and order … Gangs and drugs have taken over our streets and undermined our schools. Every day we read about somebody else who has literally gotten away with murder.”
You’ve heard enough law-and-order rhetoric spew from the mouths of Republicans that you may be numb to the above quote. Except that it wasn’t uttered by a Republican. It came from the lips of President Bill Clinton as he signed his notorious Crime Act of 1994.
For a guy who felt “your pain,” he really knew how to dish it out … especially to the poor, non-white, disenfranchised urban men and women that he was supposed to champion as the nation’s “first black president.”
In reality, Clinton’s crime bills did more harm to Black Americans than perhaps any federal action since the Dred Scott Supreme Court decision of 1857 which shed all nuances and established as United States policy that Blacks in America had “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” Although due consideration should also be given to the compromise that settled the 1876 presidential election and abandoned recently freed slaves to the clutches of the violent white supremacists of the South.
Dred Scott in fact partially triggered the Civil War in which the Union, however reluctantly and belatedly, fought to free millions of enslaved Americans, culminating with the 13th Amendment which, on paper anyway, abolished slavery in this country.
The crime bill had no such unintended positive consequences for Black Americans who were imprisoned disproportionately into a glut of jail cells funded by billions of dollars from Clinton’s crime bill. Clinton’s policies encouraged police to sweep down on low-income Black neighborhoods – even though whites used illegal drugs more frequently – and gave the green light to states legislatures who, waving their law-and-order flags, passed notorious three-strikes laws.
Clinton didn’t start the movement to use drug enforcement as a way to demonize Blacks and increase prison populations. That started with Richard Nixon who – as top aides subsequently admitted — manufactured a drug crisis in order to crack down on Blacks and anti-war protesters. But Clinton perfected it. More people were jailed during his time in office than in any other presidential administration in American history.
Fun fact: In the 1970s, there were only about 300,000 people in American jails and some were thinking that prisons were soon to be a thing of the past. Today there are more than 2.3 million people locked up. No country in the world can match this. We’re Number One and Bill Clinton played a big role in getting us here.
It gets worse. Inner cities were already slammed by the loss of manufacturing jobs to lower-paying Third World countries. NAFTA, another Clinton legacy, played a role in that. Now, as their young men were disproportionately being locked up, struggling urban families saw their tattered financial safety net dissolve thanks to the crushing blows delivered by Clinton’s so-called welfare reform, a Republican wet dream that Clinton signed over the protest of congressional Democrats.
And while Clinton was trying out cigars for his sexual trysts in the Oval Office, he still found time to sign the Defense of Marriage Act, which told tens of thousands of gay Americans that, no, this country isn’t really for you. Such a liberal, that Clinton.
So, he had his faults. But what good did he do? Seriously, I’m asking. What good did he do? Whatever his strategy was in the former Yugoslavia, it didn’t work. He failed miserably at reforming the nation’s health care. The economy? Please. Name something he did to boost business and personal income. Data shows that the economy was on the rebound before the 1992 election. Clinton just sat back and enjoyed the ride.
And he did enjoy it. He parlayed his election into a career of wealth-grabbing and shakedowns that has made him, his wife, his daughter, and select friends fabulously wealthy. If Donald Trump is the biggest grifter to ever sit in the White House (and he is), then Bill Clinton is a close second.
So why talk about this now, fully 20 years after Clinton left office? No reason, really, other than I’ve seldom heard progressives, Democrats, or liberals in this area demean Clinton in the same way they trash talk Trump – and both the Bushes, for that matter. If Clinton’s actions don’t bother them, then it is fair to wonder if their criticism of Republicans is driven more by politics than moral outrage.
For all of their many faults, did Trump or either Bush ever pull away from the presidential campaign trail in order to oversee the execution of a mentally-disabled inmate as Clinton did in 1992? The mental capacity of Ricky Ray Rector was so diminished that when he finished his last meal he asked prison authorities if they would save his dessert for a future date. After Rector with his IQ of 70 was killed, Clinton bragged to aides that his opponents would now find it difficult to call him weak on crime.
True enough. The treatment of Rector was merely a preview of the crime bills that would two years later be one of Clinton’s signature achievements.
Oh, one more thing. The first draft of those crime bills was written by a senator from Delaware – some guy named Joe Biden.