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How Bill Clinton Hurt Poor Blacks, and Hillary Might to…

October 5, 2007


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

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).

How “Different?”

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”.

You can read the rest of the article here.

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. Elizabeth permalink
    October 5, 2007 9:40 am

    Hey thanks for this (found you off of field-negro’s site)…I am constantly arguing with people about this point…it’s so easy for people to talk about how horrible this president is, etc. etc…but what’s, in a certain sense, worse to me is buying the illusion that someone is acting in your interests when they are doing the opposite. I think thats the fastest way to staying enslaved because it requires complicity…the country’s ills are so much deeper than the current face occupying the president’s seat, (yes he’s exasperated it, but these problems were here before him and it would be a mistake to think otherwise, to glamorize and romanticize Clinton’s presidency would be a destructive revision of history…)…

    anyway thanks for the article post…


  2. October 5, 2007 10:00 am

    I agree with Elizabeth. This is a point that continually needs to be made. Clinton is not black and never once. Black folk need to let that myth go and quickly. In comparison to Bush, Clinton does look mighty good. He speaks English flawlessly, for one.

    Glad to see a closer look at his policies here, however.

    We black folk want so desperately to believe in someone who will save us or even not screw us that we turn a blind eye to those who talk the talk but whose walk is essentially crooked.

    For the Clinton years, this goes well beyond black folks, btw. He and Gore squandered an opportunity to do more on the energy/climate tip, and we and our children will pay the price for that.

    I’m glad to see Obama hammering Clinton on “experience” because the wrong kind is worse than none.

    • December 11, 2015 11:22 pm

      Talked with a co-worker today about Hillary and not to vote for her. Her reply “yeah right”. I never heard of Bernie Sanders. I gave her a brief background. Very dismissive. One of those folks who will vote for who they’ve heard about as opposed to someone they know the records of policy. Makes me angry, because they will be the same ones later to complain about things happening to them and don’t know why. I explained it, gave youtube references and some brief anecdotes, to no avail. I personally am not voting for her. Better we see the full brunt of Republican insaneness than to secretly slide into a fascist state with a Democrat. I’m just saying. Never have missed but one vote (local Dem Dominated)since 1971. This may be number two.

      • February 5, 2016 1:50 am

        Spot on!!! except for one thing… why would you not vote? isn’t it better to find a third party worth supporting? sure that party isn’t going to win,,, but waste a chance to build a viable alternative to the guaranteed slow death that will come from perpetuating a broken system?

  3. October 5, 2007 1:23 pm

    I appreciate you spreading the word.

    If Black folk need reasons for why the Clintons are not our friends, I’ll give you four:
    1. Turning over AIDS treatment to Big Pharma, and , in essence, helping spread HIV/AIDS on the Continent in Africa, right at the moment it could have been contained.
    2. Turning over one, now on the second generation of Young Black Men to the Prison Industrial Complex via those drug sentencing laws.
    3. Failing to help Black Farmers at the Department of Agriculture – where the racist practices continue to this day
    4. Failing to go to bat for ANY ‘controversial’ Black nominee and bailing on them without blinking an eye.

    There are more, but I’ll just stick to these 4.

  4. October 5, 2007 10:05 pm

    Hey the Clintons’s are in the realm of black politicians. Think about it. Utterly self-important and self-indulgent…self-aggrandizing to the point that as long as they come out ahead, screw the movement, screw the rest us of us. It was this approach that actually enabled the GOP to make its inroads under Newt Gingrich et al (of course they themselves became lunatics and made the Clintons look tame).

  5. October 9, 2007 2:21 pm

    There is no might about it. But I’ll tell you that Hillary has much, much bigger fish to fry. I’ll share when I finished with the post – and rikyrah (as always) is right on point. There is a Perfect Storm brewing in Africa right now and Bill-Hill are playing Weather Man.

  6. Pearl permalink
    January 15, 2008 6:39 pm

    Thank you very much for printing this very important article which I plan to show to Clinton supporters that i have been arguing with for many years. I have told them repeatedly that the man is not a friend of Black people or poor people. This article articulates clearly all of the reasons why! Let me add, according to a friend of mine who now lives in North Carolina, while Clinton was governor of Arkansas, he experimented with what has come to be known as the Quality, Work and Responsibility Act by taking poor welfare recipients off of welfare and tracking them to go work for Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart at this time is involved in law suits in almost every state of the union as it has a poor track record on worker’s rights. The pay is lousy even for managers and the atmosphere is dog eat dog according to several people who i know that have worked for Wal-Mart. There is a site called Wal-Mart Watch accessible at for those who are interested in learning more about the movement against Wal-Mart.

    Whenever I asked any African American Clinton supporter to give me one reason why they thought Bill Clinton was a good president all they could every say is that he likes Black people. No mention of any law or policy that was endorsed or implemented by Clinton which benefited Blacks or poor people was ever mentioned. This phenomenon occurred with educated and uneducated Blacks that I discussed this topic with. I live in NYC and currently workers in WEP (Work Experience Program) are working in city offices of every type, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Parks Department and many other places for a welfare check, food stamps, and carfare. Many of these people are experienced workers who was downsized out of a job due to outsourcing, downsizing and are being exploited for their labor. Bush merely continued the bull that was started Reagan. Since Reagan, all presidents have followed suit with the support of the elite class. Bill Clinton included! In these critical times, we need to be critical thinkers.

  7. Adnora permalink
    January 22, 2008 7:43 pm

    I am so thankful that there are some critical and honest accountings of the anti-black, anti-poor facts of the Clinton legacy. He played his horn and grinned and blacks seemed to have been mesmerized. It is so unfortunate that so many black people repeat the Clinton party line without having ever examined the real devastation done to our men, women and children by NAFTA job losses, welfare reform, minimum sentencing laws and the build up of the prison industrial complex. Bill is a shrewd politician, and he is a southerner. He has shown he knew all to well how to hood wink blacks and now that deception appears to be coming back to haunt us.

  8. February 27, 2008 4:20 pm

    Clinton,Robin hood, rob from the poor give to the rich. Alot of people did not know Hillary Clinton and Bill clinton were Robin Hood who robbed from the poor and gave to the rich.

    For example, When Bill Clinton became a president of United States, he abolished welfare system. He used those money to pay off deficit and paid for job training. Who are the welfare receipiants? The welfare receipaint poor people, homeless people, street baggers, and single parent.

    Who owed deficit? Many corporation and government spending. For example, When U.S. Government billed out airline company from bankcruptcy, the government owed deficit.

    If Hillary Clinton become a president U.S.A, the poor people will be suffer. But the working people will be prosperous, because she will use the money from the poor to pay for those working people.

    To me, I am not happy for hit because I know the money that I got paid. The money came from the beggers and poor people.

    How would you feel if someone took the money from the beggers on the street and gave to you.

    Do you feel good with it? Or do you feel bad for it.

    You must use your own brain to think by analysis the past and what they did before you decide to vote for.

    • Joe permalink
      October 19, 2012 5:18 am

      Clinton’s took money from poor and gave it to the rich? Hahaha. Poor people don’t have money! How could he take it from them if they don’t have any???!

      • Paul Kersey permalink
        February 23, 2016 4:41 pm

        Can’t tell if you’re kidding or not. The rich have always been feeding off the poor. You kind of have to EXPAND your thinking. See, you’re taking his comment a bit too literal. The majority of large corporations would rather move their operations to a Third World country where the people are strikingly poor. These wonderful companies (people) pay those poor people slave wages, making them work in deplorable conditions to produce the company’s product, which is then sold on the open market at a cost many times what it requires to actually produce. The wealthy getting richer on the backs of the poor.
        So yes, the poor help the rich.

  9. Sheldon Heading permalink
    January 9, 2013 5:25 am

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  10. March 12, 2016 3:12 pm

    I used to hear folks say how great Bill Clinton was and how he did great things for this country….So I racked my brain and tried to figure out just what he did that was so great….And I ask these same people to tell me what he did that was so great…..All they can say is he balanced the budget and created a surplus…..Ok…Lets break that down…He created a surpluss of money by cutting what programs? hmmm oh yeah all them old programs that helped the poor ..he cut those and saved a lot of money and boy did he brag…He done gone and did something great but it was on the backs of those who couldnt help themselves…So what did he do with all that money he saved…Nothing…When he left and GW came in he just went right out and started giving it all away and then started 2 wars with no tax increase so all the money dk head clinton saved was for nothing…Because George was an idiot….So now not only was the country broke the economy busted but the poor were 10 times worse than before The laws he signed cost our country millions of jobs it put millions in prison and jails and it allowed the police state to plunder people for money they actually stop people on the hwy and take their cash for no rfeason other than saying oh this is drug money..He made road bandits out of our police they are worse than criminals….Bill Clinton what a dud what a farce what a usless taint on society….Bill Clinton did nothing to help society neither will hillary.

  11. March 12, 2016 3:14 pm

    Bill did make it cool to get a BJ in the white house I guess that is something.


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