Yesterday, Hillary Clinton hopped aboard the anti-police state wave, announcing in a speech at Columbia University that police brutality and over-incarceration were cultural malignancies that Had To Stop. The move, politically expedient given ongoing unrest in several cities over recent high-profile cases of deadly police brutality, is a little puzzling, considering that today’s problems are partially due to the sort of policy Clinton herself was championing in the 1990’s.
Clinton’s speech was resonant and powerful, if the only thing you know about Hillary Clinton is that she just drove across the country in a van to meet with “ordinary Iowans,” she doesn’t tip at Chipotle (nobody does!), or that one of her opponents, Rand Paul, has very similar views but cannot express anything without sounding like a fuckin’ dick. She condemned the militarization of police, excessive force by officers, legal exceptionalism when it comes to officers who break the law, and the jailing of nonviolent criminals. All of those are good things to condemn, because they are morally bad and inhumane and, to a lesser extent, pour billions of dollars into the pockets of the sort of person who owns prisons or companies that manufacture deadly weapons. We shouldn’t be giving those people money. They’ll just spend it on more evil.
Inspiring and zeitgeisty 2015 Hillary Clinton might be disturbed, then, by the following passage in a book called, It Takes A Village, written in 1996 by a woman named Hillary Clinton. In a paragraph dug up by journalist Zaid Jilani, 1996 Clinton hails the virtues of the “three strikes law” and a ballooning police force.
The Washington Post’s Philip Bump further points out that incarceration rates skyrocketed during the Bush, Clinton, and Dumber Younger Bush administrations.
We’ll note again that the increase in the prison population began prior to Bill Clinton. During the administration of George H. W. Bush, the number of prisoners sentenced to more than a year increased by 40 percent. Under Clinton — who served twice as long — it went up 46 percent. Under the first Bush, the black prison population grew 46.7 percent. Under Clinton, it grew over 50 percent.
Bump further notes that violent crime peaked shortly after Clinton took office and declined noticeably throughout the 90’s, while the prison population continued to grow.
It would be cynical to expect that humans are incapable of ideologically evolving, that viewpoints held at some arbitrary date should be gently ethered, pinned, and displayed above the mantle forever. Clinton’s certainly entitled to evolve; she’s been in the public eye for so long that she’s bound to abandon antique views in favor of better, shinier ones. But Clinton’s evolution has often seemed (and pardon the Clinton cliché here) calculated and self-enriching, and it’s hard to hear her saying the words she said yesterday without recalling other times the former Secretary of State has changed her mind when it no longer benefits her.
In Ryan Lizza’s should-read New Yorker story on Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren’s role in the 2016 Presidential campaign, Lizza notes that a similar evolution occurred in the late 1990’s, when Warren (then a law professor) spent years rallying liberals to oppose a bill that would reform bankruptcy in a way she saw as unfairly favorable to credit card companies. It nearly became law toward the tail end of Clinton’s second term. And then:
Warren targeted the one person in the White House who she believed could stop the legislation: the First Lady. They met alone for half an hour, and, according to Warren, Hillary stood up and declared, “Well, I’m convinced. It is our job to stop that awful bill. You help me and I’ll help you.” In the Administration’s closing weeks, Hillary persuaded Bill Clinton not to sign the legislation, effectively vetoing it.
But just a few months later, in 2001, Hillary was a senator from New York, the home of the financial industry, and she voted in favor of a version of the same bill. It passed, and George W. Bush signed it into law, ending Warren’s ten-year war with a crushing defeat.
Fifteen years later, Clinton’s back to decrying the fact that “the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top.”
Lizza asked Warren if she thought Clinton’s recent Woman of the People turn was simply the former Secretary of State horning in on well-trod Warren territory in order to win progressive support heading into the primaries. Warren replied: “Eh.”
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