Bill and black lives 

Watching Bill Clinton bickering with Black Lives Matter activists in Philadelphia recently, I had several conflicting, and not entirely praiseworthy responses. One was that the longer an American political campaign continues, the dumber and uglier it gets.

Another was, why bother? People holding up signs saying, "Hillary is a Murderer," aren't there for dialogue. The charge is so absurd it's self-refuting. Certainly nobody in the audience was buying.

That woman who shouted that Bill Clinton should be charged with crimes against humanity? He probably should have let it go. Bickering over a 1994 crime bill has little political salience in 2016, particularly since Hillary's opponent, the sainted Bernie Sanders, actually voted for the damn thing. She didn't.

Instead, Clinton briefly lost his cool. The next day, he said he "almost" wanted to apologize, which strikes me as slicing the bologna awfully thin even for him.

You've probably seen the 10-second clip on TV. "I don't know how you would characterize the gang leaders who got 13-year-old kids hopped up on crack and sent them out on the street to murder other African-American children," Clinton said angrily. "Maybe you thought they were good citizens, [Hillary] didn't. You are defending the people who killed the people whose lives you say matter! Tell the truth. You are defending the people who caused young people to go out and take guns."

Many Democratic-oriented pundits found this shocking. Evidently political journalism is where Freudianism — or Maureen Dowdism anyway — has gone to die. Even as astute an observer as Slate's Michelle Goldberg went all psychoanalytical on Clinton.

"It is somehow only when he is working on his wife's behalf that he veers into sabotage," she wrote. "What is needed here is probably a shrink. ... Either he doesn't want her to overtake him, or he doesn't want her to repudiate him. Regardless, Hillary should shut him down. She can't divorce him, but she can fire him."

Fat chance. Anyway, who says the outburst hurt her? Sure Bill Clinton can get hot defending his wife. I suspect more voters find that admirable than not.

It's also unclear whom Clinton's tantrum offended. "If you read some intellectuals on the left, they'd suggest there should be a grudge against the Clintons," Michael Fortner, a professor of urban studies at the City University of New York told the Christian Science Monitor "but I think the primary results show there isn't a grudge at all."

Fortner, author of the book "Black Silent Majority," argues that contrary to Black Lives Matter activists, many in the African-American community understand that the tough-on-crime aspects of the 1994 law weren't foisted upon them by white racists. Devastated by a veritable tsunami of violence and gang warfare, "political leaders, mayors, and pastors played an important role in pushing for these policies."

In Little Rock, where I lived, it was common to hear fusillades of gunfire in black neighborhoods at night. During Clinton's first term, the city's homicide rate was nearly triple today's — the vast majority of victims young black men. Teenagers I coached on Boys Club basketball teams needed to be careful what color clothing they wore en route to practice. People got shot to death for wearing Crips blue in Bloods neighborhoods.

Businesses closed, jobs dried up; anybody with the means to get out, got out. Including, one suspects, the parents of some Black Lives Matter activists. There's a reason two-thirds of the Congressional Black Caucus joined Bernie Sanders in supporting the 1994 legislation.

Clinton told them about all that, along with a recitation of the bill's Democratic virtues: a (since rescinded) assault-weapons ban, the Violence Against Women Act and 100,000 new cops on the beat. Then he made some probably insupportable claims about the crime bill's good effects:

"A 25-year low in crime, a 33-year low in the murder rate — and listen to this, because of that and the background-check law, a 46-year low in the deaths of people from gun violence. And who do you think those lives were, that mattered? Whose lives were saved, that mattered?"

But then it's also a stretch to say the bill's responsible for America having more citizens in prison than Russia and Iran. Eighty-seven percent are in state, not federal lockups. Fifty-three of those for violent crimes. Those numbers Clinton didn't dwell upon, although he did in a speech last year. "The bad news," he said "is we had a lot of people who were locked up, who were minor actors, for way too long."

Hillary Clinton herself has regretted resorting — one time, 20 years ago — to a comic-book term like "super-predators" to describe drug gang members.

Lost in all the hubbub was Bill Clinton taking the protesters seriously enough to engage them about what the dread "triangulation" really signifies. It's not an ideological label, but a philosophical inclination: doing what you can, when you can, while recognizing that the job is never done.


Speaking of Bill Clinton

  • Breitbart airs 1980 assault complaint against Bill Clinton

    October 19, 2016
    A woman identified as Leslie Milwee, a  Fort Smith TV news reporter in 1980 when Bill Clinton was governor, has given an extended interview to Breitbart, a right-wing news outlet once headed by Stephen Bannon, the leader of Donald Trump's campaign, in which she said Clinton groped her sexually. /more/
  • Take a ‘Billgrimage’ in Arkansas

    October 10, 2016
    Bill and Hillary Clinton have strong ties to Arkansas. The airport in Little Rock was even renamed in honor of the couple. Bill Clinton, the nation’s 42nd president, was born in Hope, grew up in Hot Springs, married Hillary in Fayetteville, served as governor of Arkansas in Little Rock, and made acceptance and celebration speeches in the state when he was elected and re-elected as the U.S. president. /more/
  • No, Bill Clinton did not call Obamacare 'the craziest thing in the world'

    October 4, 2016
    No, despite many reports to the contrary, Bill Clinton did not say in a speech that Obamacare is the craziest thing in the world. There are crazy problems that need fixing, but he is not calling for an end to Obamacare. /more/
  • Sex and the White House

    October 4, 2016
    Ernest Dumas' column this week muses on Donald Trump's vow to make the race about Bill Clinton's history despite the fact that Trump is "the most debauched political candidate in the history of public licentiousness." /more/
  • Donald Trump declares war on Hillary Clinton's marriage

    October 1, 2016
    Donald Trump gave a remarkable interview to the New York Times yesterday in which he declared open season on the marriage of Bill and Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton's past infidelity. Seems like a loser, but I've been wrong before. /more/
  • There Leslie Rutledge goes again; now she faults Hillary for Bill's infidelity 20 years ago

    September 28, 2016
    Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's disastrous appearance Monday night on CBS — which produced a record amount of comment and views on both our Facebook page, Twitter account and Arkansas Blog — apparently didn't harm her standing as a Trump surrogate. She's back on air today, this time blaming Hillary Clinton for Bill Clinton's indiscretions 20 years ago. /more/
  • Clinton defends plans for foundation, daughter's continued role

    September 20, 2016
    Former President Bill Clinton answers questions about whether something improper is suggested by Chelsea Clinton remaining on the board of the Clinton Foundation should her mother become president. /more/
  • Breathlessly breaking from Politico: 16-year-old Clinton-Trump photographs

    September 9, 2016
    Here's Politico with a story about some Bill Clinton-Donald Trump photos released by the Clinton Presidential Library, though it did not release some pictures of Hillary Clinton from a 1994 fund-raiser that Trump might have attended. /more/
  • Time for another talk

    September 8, 2016
    As Bill Clinton started his 1982 political recovery following his shocking defeat to Frank White two years before, he took to the airwaves of Arkansas with an atypical campaign advertisement: He looked directly at the camera and apologized for having been out touch with Arkansans during his first term, including his damaging decision to raise vehicle tag fees. /more/
  • The ghost of Jeff Gerth: There goes the New York Times again

    September 2, 2016
    The New York Times reinvigorates the stench of its Whitewater witch hunt with new reporting on a conservative group's effort to cook up a story out of Hillary Clinton e-mail. /more/
  • More »

Comments (18)

Showing 1-18 of 18

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-18 of 18

Add a comment

More by Gene Lyons

  • The big loser

    So now the big crybaby says he's losing because his opponent is crooked and the referees are blind.
    • Oct 20, 2016
  • No need to panic

    Two weeks ago, a woman from New Jersey approached me in The Spaniard, a pub and restaurant in Kinsale, Ireland.
    • Oct 6, 2016
  • Fact check

    Here's your presidential election coverage in a nutshell.
    • Sep 8, 2016
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Tom Cotton, Bond villain

    As near as I can determine, Sen. Tom Cotton's biggest worry about Iran is that its government is as bellicose and fanatical as he is.
    • Mar 17, 2015
  • Killer's failure

    Has any murdering terrorist ever failed more dramatically than Dylann Storm Roof? Like any punk with a gun, he managed to slaughter nine blameless African-American Christians at an historic church in Charleston, S.C. Intending to start a race war, he succeeded only in shocking the moral conscience of the state and nation.
    • Jun 25, 2015
  • Obama takes long view

    Right now, it's beginning to look as if President Obama will end up deserving the Nobel Peace Prize he was so prematurely awarded in 2009.
    • Jul 23, 2015

Most Shared

Latest in Gene Lyons

  • The big loser

    So now the big crybaby says he's losing because his opponent is crooked and the referees are blind.
    • Oct 20, 2016
  • No need to panic

    Two weeks ago, a woman from New Jersey approached me in The Spaniard, a pub and restaurant in Kinsale, Ireland.
    • Oct 6, 2016
  • Fact check

    Here's your presidential election coverage in a nutshell.
    • Sep 8, 2016
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Searching for diamonds at Crater of Diamonds State Park

Searching for diamonds at Crater of Diamonds State Park

A venture to this state park is on the must-do list for many, the park being the only spot in North America where you can dig for diamonds and other gemstones and keep your finds.

Event Calendar

« »


2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31  

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Trumped in Arkansas

    • What a funny article, I hope sarcasm was your intent! First, since this was written…

    • on October 23, 2016
  • Re: The big loser

    • We are leaving in 3 hours. An I never said that anybody said I DID…

    • on October 22, 2016

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation