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In Light Of His Record How Can Black America Love President Clinton?


For almost a year we have been editorializing that we do not believe that Black America is better off today than it was eight years ago. We have challenged the incessant argument that the Black unemployment rate is the lowest ever by countering that if the increased number of incarcerated Blacks were factored into unemployment calculations the Black unemployment rate would approach 10% and not the 7% so boldly paraded by members of the Democratic party. Now, a report has been released that should give every Black who has embraced Bill Clinton as their champion, reason to pause.

The Justice Policy Institute's Report "Too Little Too Late: President Clinton's Prison Legacy", we feel, supports our argument that this past election, for Black America, should have been a referendum on the last 8 years of Clinton-Gore and the future and not an exercise in portraying George W. Bush as the political anti-Christ and Al Gore as the political Messiah, as many did in the Black community. And that is why, in part, we endorsed Green Party presidential nominee Ralph Nader.

Nader's campaign, more than any other, raised issues that impact Blacks like environmental racism, D.C. statehood, the effect that immigration has on Black unemployment and reparations; issues that the Clinton-Gore administration ignored or only paid lip-service too in the final days of the campaign and their administration.

But maybe more importantly, the Nader campaign raised issues of accountability for the real consequences of the policies of the Clinton administration from 1992 to 2000.

And in our opinion, the two issues that President Clinton should be held most accountable for are the real effects of his welfare reform initiative and the real effects of his criminal justice policies. In both areas the Democrats were allowed to come into the Black community and speak as if their efforts on both of these issues were good for Black America, offering dubious "evidence" to support their claims.

On the issues of welfare reform and criminal justice, President Clinton and Democrats have a habit of only presenting only half of the facts in order to spin "success stories". Late last year President Clinton claimed that welfare reform had been a success because the welfare rolls had been decreased dramatically and because former welfare recipients had "found jobs". If success in welfare means a wholesale dropping of people out of the program, than by all measures welfare reform has been a success as numerous people have been cut from public assistance.

But to claim that success has been achieved by moving these people out of the program and into gainful employment is problematic.

The problem with that assertion is that the Clinton administration formula for measuring employment in welfare to work programs is ridiculous.

In December, the Clinton administration gave out high performance bonuses to states that excelled in moving former welfare recipients into work. The only problem is the criteria the Clinton administration used to determine job placement success.

The Clinton administration determined that a person could be considered in a job if they had only received $1 dollar in earnings in a three-month time period. And the Clinton administration determined that a former welfare recipient need only to have been in a job for 6 months to be considered to have achieved job stability.

According to this fallacious criterion, there was ample "evidence" to support the claim that welfare reform was a success. And the Clinton administration left no stone unturned in dramatizing this claim last December when it handed out success bonuses for welfare reform - even awarding the then-Republican Governor of Wisconsin, Tommy Thompson, in several categories, for welfare reform " high performance".

We wrote about this early last month in an editorial "Are You Sure About Tommy Thompson and Welfare Reform?"

And on criminal justice issues, President Clinton was recently in rare form, writing an op-ed for the New York Times explaining the evils in the disparities in sentencing for crack cocaine and powder cocaine, which unjustly contribute to more Black and Latino men and women in jail. The only problem with what President Clinton wrote was its timing.

As William Raspberry wrote in yesterday's Washington Post, Clinton had 6 years after signing the crime bill in which to deal with this issue. And he did not lift a finger to help Black Caucus members or interest groups who were concerned about the problem.

And as the Justice Policy Institute report and The Sentencing Project figures indicate, Black incarceration rate skyrocketed under the Clinton administration.

The JPI report reveals that 225,000 more Blacks were incarcerated under Clinton than under President Reagan - the Republican President most disliked in Black America.

While most of the residents in Harlem know better, it is interesting how Black opinion leaders - particularly talk-show hosts and members of the Black political establishment portray President Clinton's move to Harlem as an embrace by Black America - that somehow President Clinton is the "people's champ".

It is hard to imagine President Clinton receiving a full embrace from a community that has been devastated, more than others, by the increased incarceration of its residents primarily for non-violent offenses.

Having lived in Harlem and having family and friends who still live there now, I can assure you that in discussions among Blacks, President Clinton's decision to move to Harlem is viewed as nothing but hype. The people in Harlem don't believe that President Clinton is their hero or has improved their lives.

And many Black Harlem residents believe that President Clinton's welfare reform, his empowerment zones, and New York City rent policies, in practice, have moved low-income Black residents and Black-owned businesses out of Harlem in order to make room for upper-middle class Whites and White corporations. On the street, Harlem's White and corporate immigration or "invasion" as some refer to it, is spoken of in no uncertain terms.

It is only when the White media is present that Blacks embrace President Clinton - knowing how much conservatives and Republicans hate him. And in essence, that is the nature of the relationship between Blacks and Clinton. Few seem to remember how critical of Clinton Black leaders were in the early 1990s - largely because of his move to the political center where he successfully spoke to White America after dissing Sister Souljah, running from Rev. Jesse Jackson, ignoring Lani Guinier and after a campaign where Clinton personally witnessed the execution of a mentally retarded Black men.

However, that scenario changed when Newt Gingrich and the Republicans rode into Congress and Black leaders interpreted their Contract With America as a Contract on Black America.

Gingrich's appearance, in the eyes of many Blacks, made Clinton look like a friend or at least the lesser of two evils. And so the "enemy of my enemy is my friend" philosophy kicked in and Black America, from Gingrich through impeachment, embraced Clinton on the grounds that their bigger enemy - the Republican Party and far -right racist conservatives were a bigger problem than the enemy that Black Democrats allowed into their own house and who had begun to remove the furniture, no pun intended.

But today as more and more of the numbers roll in on the Clinton legacy, and President Clinton eventually fades out of the spotlight Black America will be forced to look at its condition before and after the Clinton Presidency, without the presence of the white or mainstream media and without the presence of Republican "demons".

It was a Democratic President and not a Republican who signed welfare reform, the crime bill and who proposed "mending" affirmative action, not a Republican. It was a Democratic President who allowed environmental racism to grow under his watch, not a Republican. It was a Democratic President who did nothing, legally, to address racial profiling and police brutality, not a Republican. It was a Democratic President who reappointed a Republican Federal Reserve Chairman not once but twice, after that Federal Reserve Chairman adhered to economic policies that ensure that a disproportionate number of Blacks will remain unemployed; and which ensured that Black farmers and African economies would be wrecked by a monetary deflation…not a Republican .

What Reagan and Bush may have only talked about, Clinton did.

It is not hard to see why many Blacks believe that the idea that President Clinton is the "first Black President", whether promoted in jest or not, is an absolute insult.

We believe that the record has already shown and will continue to show that President Clinton's actions have done more harm to Black America than good, and that his policies, over the last 8 years, have been significantly more damaging to Blacks than has Republican Party rhetoric, over the last 20 years.

Even accepting the argument that White Democrats are more sympathetic to Blacks than are White Republicans, by now, the Black electorate should know that a White man who talks a good game but does evil is far more dangerous than a White man who speaks evil and then acts accordingly.

At least you always know where the latter is coming from…


Cedric Muhammad

Tuesday, February 20, 2001

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