Who is this man, and why is he allowed to stump for Hillary Clinton? These are questions that roiled in my mind while watching Bill Clinton, seemingly motivated by defending his own name rather than promoting his wife’s presidential campaign, argue in an unhinged fashion with a Black Lives Matter protestor in Philadelphia and say some seriously sideways shit that is more likely to harm Hillary’s efforts than help. Hillary Clinton should possibly consider firing this dude.
During his speech in the video above, an activist yells out a question, which is unidentifiable and garbled on this recording but appears to have been about “super-predators.” As the camera pans back, other protestors are visible, with one sign reading “Hillary Clinton is a murderer.” Clinton begins by saying how much he “loves” interacting with protestors so long as they allow him to answer, and then responds to the activist:
What she’s referring to are the increased provisions of the 1994 Crime Bill. Ninety percent of the people who are in prison too long are in state prison and local jails. More than 90 percent. But it’s also true that there are too many people in the federal prisons; President Obama’s trying to let ‘em out. Here’s what happened. Let’s just tell the whole story. When I became president, the headlines in the newspapers were full of—now wait, I listened to you, you listened to me—Vice President Biden, his family comes from Scranton, he was the chairman of this committee that had jurisdiction over this crime bill. I had an assault weapons ban in it, I had provisions for inner city kids, for after school activities [...] and Biden said, “You can’t pass this bill, the Republicans’ll kill it, if you don’t put more sentencing in it.”
I talked to a lot of African American groups, they thought black lives mattered. They said, “Take this bill, because our kids are being shot in the street by gangs. We have 13-year-old kids planning their own funerals.” [...] Because of that and the background check law, we had a 46-year low in the deaths of people by gun violence, and who do you think those lives were that mattered? Whose lives were saved, that mattered? And who was the first candidate? Hillary didn’t vote for that bill, she wasn’t in the Senate, she was trying to spend her time trying to get health care for poor kids. And who were they?
Gotta love this primary era wherein old white men (like Bernie Sanders!) make wild generalizations and assumptions about where black people live and under what conditions, and speak with the kind of tense authority that veers toward racial dog whistle zone. But it got even worse: When the protestor suggested that Hillary Clinton be charged with crimes against humanity, writes the Washington Free Beacon, Bill Clinton became somewhat visibly agitated:
I don’t know how you would characterize the gang leaders who got 13-year-old kids hopped up on crack and sent ‘em out onto the street to murder other African-American children—maybe you thought they were good citizens. She didn’t. She didn’t. You are defending the people who kill the lives you say matter. Tell the truth.
Overall, Clinton’s arguments that homicides declined after 1994 are factually true, but it would have been more advantageous to his reputation—and his wife’s campaign—had he responded without being so condescending, and acknowledged his bill’s failings, particularly in the area of mass incarceration. But if there’s something we’ve learned so far over the course of this primary, it’s that neither of the Democratic candidates seems all that comfortable discussing the intersection of race and policy candidly—ex-Prez Bill included—out of the context of a scripted speech. It’s already been a long year.