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“Hypocrisy Watch”: When Bernie Sanders, Conventional Politician, Called For Still More Mass Incarceration

Could Bernie Sanders be starting to look ever so slightly like just another pol? Not to his besotted legions, of course. For them, nothing can tarnish the great man. But for other voters, the past week may mark a turning point in the way he’s perceived.

I have three events in mind. First was the Hillary-is-not-qualified business. Yeah, he walked it back fast, but not before he grossly mischaracterized what Clinton had said on Morning Joe and then went out and raised money off of his own mischaracterization! Far be it from me to suggest that the righteous one ever reads a poll, but I bet he does, and I bet his were showing that the controversy was killing him.

Second was the Vatican dust-up. What really happened there, who knows. But if your behavior leads two Vatican officials to start cat-scratching each other on the record, you have not won the morning. Given that he’s apparently not meeting with the Pope, I have no idea at this point why he’s even going. We all get that it’s a pander for Latino votes in New York, but why not just spend that time meeting actual Latino voters?

But third and biggest by far is Sanders’s continuing hypocrisy regarding the 1994 crime bill. Hypocrisy is a strong word. Is it fair? Well, he’s been going around for months criticizing both Clintons on the bill. But of course, as we know, he voted for it. And as we learned Sunday from Clinton surrogate John Podesta on ABC, Sanders boasted as recently as 2006 that he was tough on crime because he supported the ’94 bill.

Say what you want to say about the bill. It was really bad in many respects. It did help contribute to mass incarceration, especially of young black men. These arguments weren’t secrets at the time. Many people made them. In the House, about one-third of Democrats voted against the bill, most of them liberal or African-American (or both) critics of the bill on exactly these grounds. So Congressman Sanders was sitting on the House floor, or in the Democratic cloakroom, being exposed to these arguments, and he still voted for it.

He says it was because of the provisions that cracked down on violence against women. Fine; laudable, even. But if he gets credit for the good parts, don’t Bill and Hillary get that credit, too?

The story gets worse for Sanders. Over the weekend, an excerpt of remarks Congressman Sanders had inserted into the Congressional Record in 1995 started making the rounds. A debate was raging at the time about the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparities (black people were more often arrested on crack charges, for which the sentencing guidelines were much harsher). The U.S. Sentencing Commission had recommended to Congress that it eliminate the disparity (PDF). It meant that Congress should do so by lowering the guidelines for crack so that they’d be equal to those for powder. Most Democrats, of course, supported this change.

Sanders? Well, he wanted to eliminate the disparity—but by raising the powder guidelines to those for crack! Here are the salient sentences, from the Record of Oct. 18, 1995, tweeted over the weekend by James E. Carter IV, President Carter’s grandson:

“This Congressman thinks that drugs are a scourge on America, and I strongly believe we must fight cocaine use in any form. We should be addressing the fairness issue by raising the punishment for powder cocaine, not lowering the sentence for crack offenses. I am deeply disturbed that this was not given as an option today.”

Well, I’ll give him this much. The Sanders option would have eliminated the disparity. But it would have done so by throwing millions more people behind bars for years, ruining that many more lives, black, white, and otherwise. It’s totally at odds with Sanders’s rhetoric, which I agree with by the way, about how we need to give young people from difficult circumstances more opportunity. Bernie wanted to give young people from all circumstances less opportunity. He may never have used the word “superpredators,” but he sure seems to have believed in their existence.

Why was Sanders such a law-and-order type? It’s hard to know, since of course he never talks about it and now says just the opposite, with all that imperious moral thunder that some find bewitching and others bothersome or bewildering. But this excellent Yahoo! News piece from early February lays the record out. He even voted against a bill in 1995 that would have established separate drug courts and taken steps to demilitarize police departments, preventing them from using any money in the act in question (which failed) for the purchase of Army-style tanks or aircraft.

It’s hard to imagine that crime was raging across the state from Burlington to Brattleboro. Maybe it was, by Vermont standards. Or maybe he just believed it was. But if he did believe it, he ought to just say so and explain why.

Hillary Clinton’s record on these matters is compromised as well. But at least the Clintons acknowledge error. Bill said last summer that the crime bill made mass incarceration worse. Hillary, in her first major speech of her campaign, also last year, ducked mentioning the crime bill by name but clearly spent parts of the speech criticizing it.

The Clintons, quite imperfect the both of them, live in a world where things are complicated, history advances and changes, and you have to rethink and explain. Sanders lives in a world where no explanation is ever required of him. Clinton has a week to change that.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 12, 2016

April 14, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Crime Bill 1994, Hillary Clinton, Mass Incarceration | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Let’s Look At The Crime Bill”: Doing What You Can, When You Can, While Recognizing That The Job Is Never Done

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 ten-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, 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, 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 penitentiaries, not federal lockups. Fifty-three percent 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.

 

By: Gene Lyons, Featured Post, The National Memo, April 13, 2016

April 14, 2016 Posted by | Bill Clinton, Black Lives Matter, Crime Bill 1994, Law and Order | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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