Ex-presidents come in all sorts, from loved and revered, to astonishing, to awkward, to ill, but none has had a more unfortunate transformation than Bill Clinton. He used to have the political sense to speak well of those who could help him or support him, but that had clearly run in short supply in 2008 when his wife first sought the presidency. Then he made a number of bizarre and racist comments about the man who has become our current president. He faded into the woodwork after that, coming out only to find ways to make money off his Foundation. But he’s loose again and he’s lost whatever political sense he ever had.
Two recent incidents show that he has lost it and should be put out to pasture. The first is his now famous confrontation with Black Lives Matter protesters at a speech he gave a week or two ago. I’m sure we’ve all seen the video, probably more than once, where he ended up saying in more direct fashion what he intended with his draconian criminal justice rule in the 1990s. The unintended consequences of that law have been ably discussed in Michelle Alexander’s excellent The New Jim Crow.
The law was passed with incredibly harsh penalties aimed at urban crime. It was the statute about which Hillary Clinton made her now notorious claim about superpredators who needed to be brought to heel. The dogwhistle in that comment was painfully obvious to those of us who lived through it. It was the beginning of my disdain for Hillary and she has done nothing to redeem herself over the intervening years. Bill tried to argue that she was referring to the gang leaders who sent juveniles out to do crimes, hopped up on crack, because they would face lower penalties if caught. He also said that the juveniles had killed the lives that the protesters were saying mattered. He went on for some time, digging his hole deeper and deeper, although most videos only showed the first few comments he made. He’s lucky. The whole performance was appalling in its insensitivity to the fact that his law created the society in which police could take lives so cavalierly.
What made it worse was his condescending statement the next day when he said he “almost” wanted to apologize, but decided instead to turn it into a teachable moment.Yeah. I groaned as he began to explain that we would accomplish a lot more if we listened to each other and didn’t yell at each other. It would have better if he had kept that pearl of wisdom to himself.
Now I believe he has gone too far. His latest loose comment was to suggest that Bernie Sanders’ followers want to shoot every third Wall Street worker. It was, I believe, meant to be facetious but it was wrong on so many levels that there is no excuse for his having uttered it. He now claims it was a “total joke.” Really? When his wife was hammering Bernie for his views on guns the night before, and speaking over Bernie when it was his turn to respond? That’s another whole rant. Bernie is now being told that he shouldn’t have interrupted her by saying “Excuse me.” Everyone who watched that debate knew that Hillary was pushing her way into Bernie’s time and protesting what he was saying while he was still talking.
To make a joke the next day that Bernie’s supporters want to shoot people on Wall Street was so Trump-like as to shock the conscience. To make a joke out of gun violence when one of the primary stories in the news is the ongoing lawsuit by the families of Newtown, CT, against the makers of the guns that killed their family members is so outrageous that I would hope that Hillary would muzzle this attack dog if she has any hope of gaining support from Sanders’ supporters should she win the nomination.
I was never a big fan of Bill Clinton. He got my vote because the alternative was appalling after the Reagan-Bush 41 years. But a randy, smarmy lothario was not my ideal candidate for president. He could take some clues from Jimmy Carter about how to be an ex-president with dignity and concern for the future of the world. But Jimmy Carter was the last true Democratic president. The Ronny Raygun revolution converted the Third Way Clintons into Republicans-lite. Obama is a continuation of that trend without the venal nature of the Clintons. Obama has bought into the corporatist mindset of the new Democrats, and many current Democrats seem to have accepted the unlimited money from big business as one of the perks of being in politics.
If Bernie has proved one thing with his campaign, it’s that there is another source for money to run a campaign that does not require compromising one’s ethics by being bought and paid for by lobbyists. We are turning into a corporate run society. I suspect that only lip service will be given to our civil rights if this trend is not nipped when we have such a great chance to do it.
Most people go through their lives without thinking overly about being stopped and frisked or pulled over by cops while driving a little bit aggressively. They rely on their money being in the bank when they go to get it, and will kvetch when new barriers are put in the way of getting their money when they want it. They’re not very put out by what is happening in other parts of the country or other police departments, because there hasn’t been a shooting in their town recently. We are comfortable. We have great inertia. It is in times like this that we won’t pay as close attention to our rights as we should. We let Patriot Acts get passed. We let ill-intentioned people talk us into a war that costs lives, treasure, and a realistic hope for peace. In the second world war, we had concentration camps (no, don’t call them internment camps) to lock up American citizens out of an excess of xenophobia, without rights or recompense for the horrendous losses they suffered for out comfort.
We cannot afford to be comfortable. I don’t know who first said it, but I believe our duty on this earth is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. We can all do more to help those less advantaged than we are. Naysayers like Bill Clinton are no longer relevant, only inconvenient remnants of a time when money ruled. If this revolution of Bernie Sanders works, it will be the end of the excesses that allowed such facile use of Bill Clinton’s intellect to smother debate and denigrate honest and worthy people.