Bill Clinton injected a disruptive element into the Democratic presidential campaign yesterday: truth. The question now is: How will his wife recover from this alien intrusion?
The former president was stumping for Hillary Clinton in Philadelphia when protesters targeted the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act that he had signed into law. The bill lengthened federal sentences for repeat felony offenders and provided federal funding for more state prison construction, among other provisions. Signs bobbing in the audience read: CLINTON CRIME BILL DESTROYED OUR COMMUNITIES and HILLARY IS A MURDERER. A heckler shouted out that Bill Clinton should be charged with crimes against humanity.
At first, Clinton responded by touting the Democratic feel-good elements of the 1994 bill: a ban on assault weapons, funding for after-school programs in inner cities, and money for more cops “so that the police could look like the people they police.” It was then-Senator Joe Biden, Clinton said, who persuaded him to support the tougher sentencing measures in order to get the bill through a Republican Congress. But then, in the first of his inconvenient infusions of truth, Clinton added that it wasn’t just Republican lawmakers who wanted a tougher response to crime—it was also “African-American communities.” They urged him to sign the bill, he said, because their “kids were shot in the street by gangs.” Thirteen-year-olds were planning their funerals, according to Clinton. The result of the bill’s passage? “A 25-year low in crime, a 33-year low in the murder rate—and listen to this,” he said, “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?”
The hecklers weren’t placated. As chants continued to disrupt his speech, Clinton broke out in obvious exasperation: “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 heatedly. “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.”
Clinton also defended the historic 1996 welfare reform bill, currently the subject of a rearguard left-wing assault. If it increased poverty as its critics charge, he asked, “Why then did we have the largest drop in African-American poverty in history?”
Clinton’s equation of today’s virulent anti-cop protests with the enabling of criminals is about as visceral and daring a response to the Black Lives Matter movement as one could imagine. It also happens to be accurate. Data-driven, accountable policing and lengthened sentences for violent criminals have saved thousands of black lives since 1994. And now, as cops back off from proactive policing under the relentless charge that they’re racist for enforcing the law in minority neighborhoods, black lives—including children’s lives—are once again being lost at elevated rates, prompting no outcry or protests from Black Lives Matter. Clinton understands at a gut level the need for vigilant, strong law enforcement. He also knows that the people most hurt by crime are blacks.
But Clinton’s unguarded outburst of honesty puts him and Hillary in a difficult position. The Democratic frontrunner has been furiously pandering to the anti-cop Left. She has claimed that it was “reality” that cops view black lives as “cheap.” She has amplified President Barack Obama’s relentless lie that the criminal justice system treats similarly situated blacks and whites differently, and that it is shot through with racial bias. Even Bill Clinton wanly joined the Democrats’ criminal justice history revisionism last year with a half-hearted apology for the 1996 crime bill.
But the former president’s display of righteous anger throws that carefully calculated groveling into disarray. The Left is furious. Vice News fumed that Clinton’s Philadelphia performance raises the “question of whether Bill is actually helping or hurting Hillary’s campaign” with his history of “veering dangerously off message while on the campaign trail for his wife.” It’s hard to see how Hillary walks this back. She can either acknowledge the truth, or betray him and continue to pander. Most likely, she will simply ignore the contradiction between her husband’s criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement and her own embrace of it.
The Clinton v. Clinton tension echoes the internecine warfare raging on the campuses. The Left has gotten so extreme that it is now eating its own.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images