How Bill Clinton Hurt Poor Blacks, and Hillary Might to…
By Thought Merchant
Among the chuckling Black elite, Bill Clinton has been touted as Americas “first Black President.” This appellation is insulting to African Americans on two fronts: first, it presupposes that playing the saxophone, succumbing to spousal infidelity, and eating junk food somehow makes you black; and secondly, it neglects Bill Clinton’s real legacy when it came to the Black poor.
As Hillary Clinton goes around the country gaining support by African American elected officials based on her “Black” husband, more attention needs to be paid to Bill Clinton’s record on race and poverty in America out of the fear that Hillary might repeat it. The following article illustrates some glaring contradictions to the image Bill Clinton maintains as being sympathetic to the Black poor.
Hat tip to dissidentvoice.org
Bill Clinton Was No Friend To The Poor
by Paul Street
“Whether it’s race-based or not,” Clinton told ABC, “if you give tax cuts to the rich and hope everything turns out alright and poverty goes up and it disproportionately affects brown and black people, that’s a consequence of the action made. That’s what they did in the 80s; that’s what they’ve done in this decade.” “In the middle,” Clinton reflected, “we had a different policy.” (Phillip Shenon, “the Ex-President: Clinton Levels Sharp Criticism of the President’s Relief Effort,” New York Times, 19 September 2005, A17).
Fair enough on Reagan and the two Bushes. But how “different” and more socio-economically and therefore (by Clinton’s analysis) racially democratic was administration policy under Bill Clinton, the self-appointed post-Katrina champion of the poor? By Clinton’s account, McClellan’s “deep history of injustice” was under egalitarian federal assault during the years of the Clinton regime. The record suggests otherwise.
A good place to check that history against Clinton’s populist claims is the thirteenth chapter, titled “The Clinton Presidency,” of Howard Zinn’s magnificent modern history counter-text The Twentieth Century(New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 2003). Another place to look is progressive economist Robert Pollin’s excellent Contours of Descent: U.S. Economic Fracturing and the Landscape of Global Austerity (New York, NY: Verso, 2003).
What emerges from a careful reading of these and numerous other texts and sources is a Clinton administration that defied mainstream public support for socially democratic policies by conducting the public business in regressive accord with the interrelated neoliberal and racially disparate imperatives of empire and inequality.
Clinton’s domestic agenda was first announced as a gigantic jobs-creation program coupled with a determined effort to guarantee health care for all. But, Zinn notes, Clinton quickly betrayed these declared campaign priorities by “concentrating on reduction of the deficit, which under Reagan and Bush I had left a national debt of $4 trillion.” This emphasis, Zinn argued, “meant that there would be no bold programs of expenditures for universal health care, education, child care, housing, the environment, the arts, or job creation.” Clinton’s “small gestures” toward social democracy did “not come close to what was needed in a nation where one-fourth of the children lived in poverty; where homeless people lived on the streets in every major city; where women could not look for work for lack of child care; where the air, the water were deteriorating dangerously.”
More than being merely inadequate to the needs of America’s millions of truly disadvantaged citizens, the Clinton administration actually attacked the disproportionately non-white poor in numerous interrelated ways. Clinton signed a punitive neoliberal welfare “reform” bill that ended the federal government’s guarantee of financial help to impoverished families with dependent children. By forcing poor families getting federal cash assistance (such families were mainly non-white single-parent units) to find employment without establishing concomitant government programs to create or directly provide livable wage jobs, Clinton flooded the nation’s low- and poverty-wage and no-benefits job market with hundreds of thousands of defenseless new proletarians. He also scored points with the grinders of the poor by taking welfare benefits away from legal as well as illegal immigrants.
It was all done in the name of “Personal Responsibility,” “Work Opportunity,” and “Reconciliation,” to use the key Orwellian phrases of the Clinton-Gingrich welfare-elimination regime.
Clinton enthusiastically signed a “Crime Bill” that expanded federal prison construction, helping turn the “land of freedom” into the world’s leading nation for imprisonment .Poor blacks made up a wildly disproportionate number of the Clinton era’s massive and expanding army of prisoners and felony-marked “ex-offenders”.
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