Hillary Clinton may yet gain the Democratic nomination for president, and may even win the White House in November, but her campaign is doing little to increase the stature of her husband.
Bill’s is an odd case. It’s not so much that his presidency gained favor after it ended—that happens frequently—it’s that the unprecedented attacks by Kenneth Starr et al. actually presaged the new era of politics—one that we hadn’t seen coming. Nowadays if some minor player like Kenneth Starr called for impeachment, we’d chalk it up to partisanship and wait for the next story to roll past. But in the nineties we bought it. Maybe afterward we all felt a little guilty (though Bill Clinton had certainly earned his share of opprobrium) and he became that president we had before 9/11 when the world was safer.
For fifteen years he traded on that reputation; then last week his little melt-down shout-down of a protester at a Hillary rally cost him. His response was true enough—his party remains the only one that minorities can rely on for representation—but the Black Lives Matter movement has more legs than he thinks; and turning it around to say All Lives Matter is fatuous and absurd. We know about all lives, but for the first hundred years of this country’s existence, that meant white lives, and for the last 150 years, the change in that attitude has come glacially slow, if at all. Before you deny that, travel about in any large city and locate its poorest section, then tell me what you see.
Even worse, Clinton’s crime bill did, in fact, exacerbate that situation—put more black men in prison and left more black families shattered and displaced. Clinton and others have repudiated that legislation, and current leaders on both sides of the aisle have worked to undo some of the harm. But it will be a long process; and like slavery, the harm cannot be undone by a simple pen stroke or by an ex-president turning around a slogan. The Democrats, whether they like it or not, must own the “black lives matter” slogan because nobody else will.
Experts claim that the Democrats have lost elections in the past by being too inclusive—the party of blacks, Latinos, gays, feminists, LGBTQs, union members, pacifists, and someday, no doubt, Martians and sentient robots. Maybe. But if the alternative is to spout off clichés about our country’s “return to greatness” and the rights of the “silent majority” and the justification of xenophobia while pandering to white Americans only, then they might as well call themselves what they are: Republicans.