Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Hillary Clinton and Black Lives Matter

I haven't really weighed in on the #BlackLivesMatter movement and their proactive stances at the campaign stops of major Democratic presidential candidates, including Martin O'Malley, Bernie Sanders, and most recently Hillary Clinton because I was still trying to formulate a form of thought around it.  I agree with the movement-I do feel that the criminal justice system has a systemic problem with racism.  It's one of many deeply pressing matters that I look forward to the candidates debating, and I desperately wish that DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whose tenure in that position has been middling to put it mildly, would have had the good sense to get a debate sooner rather than later for the candidates to start airing the left's side rather than watching the Republicans drown the airwaves.  However, I will say that after reading the transcripts of the conversation that the movement had with Secretary Clinton, I do have to agree with a few points made by the former Secretary of State.

For starters, I think that the movement, while admirable, has spent more time focusing on creating buzz about itself than on focusing on specific policy initiatives.  This is not the worst idea from a marketing perspective.  Companies will frequently drum up interest in a product or service before ever realizing a business plan and what to do once that demand is there-Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube all are pretty solid examples of that.  However, there is only a short window of time that this movement will get in the primary, and it's worth noting that they need to take advantage of it.  The reality is that continued interruptions of the Democratic candidates for president will only be able to last so long.  Regardless of people's support for the movement, Democratic voters will become aggravated and less inclined to support the movement if they block other key groups from getting their moment in the press with the main candidates (gay rights, environmental activism, gun rights, women's rights, immigration, economic plans, and foreign policy will all eventually get a week or two in the press-this is how campaigns work-no subject stays in the forefront the entire conversation).  Almost certainly the most sound-byte ready quote from the interaction with Clinton was "you don't tell black people what we need to know," but there's a lot of truth in Clinton's reaction-she needs to be able to know what their specific policy demands are so that she can start to sell this to the American public, and most specifically to Congress should she be elected.

Because there are two realities happening in the Black Lives Matter movement right now, and one of them is that they have only been trying to persuade Democratic candidates for a reason.  Yes, recently protesters tried to start a conversation with Jeb Bush, but Martin O'Malley got in on the conversation before the Republican frontrunner for a reason-the Black Lives Matter organization, despite publicly stating that they are non-partisan, knows that the Democratic nominee is the best option to be sympathetic to their cause.  Clinton, Sanders, even O'Malley-these are the people that will continue to talk about this long after their moment in the campaign has passed and the press has moved onto a different topic.  The Democratic debates are far more likely to get a healthy conversation about racial inequality, and will have more detailed plans on how they will solve it, plans that are more likely to be favorable to the movement's goals.  The Republican Party has virtually no African-American support, and that seems unlikely to change since they know that their base will almost certainly react poorly to an embrace of the movement (if you want proof, just look at how at Bush's rally, the man who is almost certainly the most moderate on issues of race in the GOP primary, had an audience erupt in chants of "white lives matter" when the movement tried to protest).  The Democratic Party and in particular selecting a nominee that will be a strong voice for the African-American community and #BlackLivesMatter is the movement's best shot at making real change.

And in this regard I have to say that while the advice of Hillary Clinton may not be something they feel they need to hear (per the above quote), it's advice that's worth listening to for the second reality: Hillary Clinton is still near-certain to be the Democratic nominee for president.  Mrs. Clinton's campaign may be in its nadir, but Joe Biden and Al Gore haven't gotten into the race yet, Bernie Sanders still hasn't maintained the sort of support that translates into real votes (he's nowhere near what Howard Dean was in 2004 yet), and as a result it still seems very likely that Mrs. Clinton will be the Democratic nominee in 2016.  Since I refuse to think that anyone would be foolish enough to sit out such a vitally important election, the Black Lives Matter movement should see in her answers a plea for some sort of policy push that she can make.  Hillary Clinton is never going to admonish her husband for his actions in the War on Drugs and some of his policy's in the wake of the Reagan/Bush administrations because he's her husband and because Bill Clinton remains the single most popular figure in the Democratic Party, if not the most popular living politician in the United States (it's the same reason that Bernie Sanders has been extremely cautious not to attack Mrs. Clinton herself).  Whether or not she agrees with his decisions some twenty years later is a conversation that will likely be answered in her third memoir, but right now it won't happen publicly. And the reality is that she's right-you can't spend all of your time focusing on changing hearts, but instead need to hone in on something tangible like changing laws.  This is one of the critically-important reasons for success on gay marriage.  The focus was always on policy, policy, policy.  Yes, they made public pleas for a change in people's minds, but they used legislatures and the Courts to make real action.  The Black Lives Matter movement can make that change, but they have to do so by arming politicians with an actionable game plan for when they are in office and by focusing on policy and political savvy.  Otherwise this will be an admirable movement bound to be forgotten.

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