The ‘Respectable’ Center Is No Longer Tough On Crime

Screen Shot MSNBC

Scott Greer Contributor
Font Size:

Black Lives Matter demonstrators forced yet another prominent Democratic figure into an awkward position last week.

But unlike Bernie Sanders, who once notoriously lost his microphone (and subsequently a rally) to two mere demonstrators, Bill Clinton kept ahold of his microphone to lash out at the black activists who heckled him during a speech in Philadelphia Thursday.

“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 to the street to murder other African American children. Maybe you thought they were good citizens. [Hillary Clinton] didn’t. She didn’t. You are defending the people who killed the lives, you say matter,” Clinton shot back at Black Lives Matter protesters who were interrupting his speech. (RELATED: Bill Clinton: Black Lives Matter Defends Black People Who Kill Other Black People)

Clinton’s foes were voicing their disapproval of the former president’s tough-on-crime policies, particularly the 1994 crime bill that expanded mandatory minimum sentencing, which were once enthusiastically championed by his wife and current Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.

Both Clintons have spent a considerable amount of time this election cycle running as far away from their shared position on crime while they resided in the White House. Last year as Hillary began campaigning, Bill all but renounced his ’94 crime bill in saying it made mass incarceration worse.

But last week’s display showed that deep down, Mr. Clinton still thinks he was right to be tough-on-crime, a position that, twenty years ago, made him a moderate Democrat. Now it makes him a racist.

Almost immediately after video of the incident was released, demands for an apology from Clinton were issued. (RELATED: Hillary-Supporting Rap Mogul Demands Apology From Bubba Over ‘Black Lives Matter’ Remarks)

And apologize he…sort of did on Friday.

“I rather vigorously defended my wife, as I am wont to do, and I realized, finally, I was talking past [the protester] the way she was talking past me. We gotta stop that in this country. We gotta listen to each other again,” he said during a speech given at Penn State. (RELATED: Bill Clinton Apologizes For Accidentally Telling The Truth)

His wife went a step further and threw Bubba under the bus on Sunday by stating “over-incarceration” is a consequence of Bill’s bill.

David French of the National Review called Clinton’s surprise outburst an attempt at a “Sister Souljah moment,” which won’t go over well with modern progressives. (RELATED: Sister Souljah Moments Always Fail For Conservatives)

“Clinton was bold, but 2016 isn’t 1992, and the Democrats aren’t desperate to reclaim the White House but rather are secure in their cultural and political position. The social-justice warriors rule the Democrats, and they were not amused,” French wrote in a column published before Bill backtracked from his comments.

Believing the outburst could have possibly been an “intentional play for the middle,” the National Review writer says that progressives will probably get what they want out of this controversy. The semi-apology shows that may be the case.

While it is true that the Clintons’ party is run by progressives who hate tough-on-crime policies, French overlooks how the hottest bipartisan issue of late has been criminal justice reform. Prominent Republicans like Senate Majority Whip [crscore]John Cornyn[/crscore], [crscore]Rand Paul[/crscore] and Chris Christie have all backed the idea of reversing Clinton-era measures designed to tackle crime. (RELATED: Criminal Justice Reform Is Bipartisanship At Its Worst)

Two of the remaining three GOP presidential candidates have at times endorsed criminal justice reform. Last year, Sen. [crscore]Ted Cruz[/crscore] co-sponsored a bill that would’ve cut many drug sentences in half and eliminated the mandatory “third strike” implemented by Clinton’s ’94 bill for drug offenders. In April 2015, the man running second to Donald Trump said “draconian mandatory minimums” are largely inappropriate for “non-violent drug offenders.”

But later on in the year as he was mired in the presidential race, Cruz voted against a sentencing bill that was considered significantly milder than the legislation he co-sponsored. The senator explained his vote was cast because the legislation would’ve helped “violent felons.”

John Kasich, on the other hand, has remained a consistent advocate of criminal justice reform during the presidential race. The Ohio governor has touted his own sentencing reforms while running the midwestern state on the campaign trail and has even gone as far as to say he’s led on Black Lives Matter issues. Reason magazine — a proponent of criminal justice reform — has praised Kasich for going after police unions, which apparently foment “police violence,” according to the libertarian publication.

So maybe it’s not just social justice warriors who prefer to overturn tough-on-crime measures from the 1990s. And Republicans are doing it for the reasons of playing identity politics.

The primary reason Democrats say they hate the measures associated with the measures of the 1990s is that they harmed minority communities, as articulated by the protesters who heckled Bill Clinton. Even though when the bill was introduced, it was supported by minority leaders as a way to help those communities.

On the flip side, Republicans have embraced criminal justice reform as a way to make in-roads with minority communities. “America’s demographics are changing at lighting speed, so Republicans are going to have to court minority voters, period,” GOP strategist Ford O’Connell told The Hill last year. “This is a smart way to do it.”

Rick Perry said the reforms would help rekindle the GOP’s “moral legitimacy as the party of Lincoln” among African-Americans. Rand Paul said mass incarceration was “something like segregation” in his pitch to minority voters.

Both Paul and Perry failed miserably in the 2016 primary and there’s no solid evidence showing Republicans would gain votes by eradicating mandatory minimums. However, there is a positive correlation between the enactment of tough-on-crime policies in the 1980s and 90s and a decline in crime.

Though liberals love to dispute that there is any connection between the two figures, they rarely give more than a disinterested shrug in response to what caused crime to significantly decrease in that time span. Guess it will forever remain a mystery…

While the Left’s hysteric reaction to the 42nd president’s Black Lives Matter rebuttal may seem loopy, it comes at a time when the respectable center is on the side of the activists. At least, when it comes to the political class’s respectable center.

Meanwhile, more Americans are concerned with crime than at any time in the last 15 years, according to Gallup.

Maybe Slick Willie has a better sense of what the American people think of his policies than those of his peers in the Democratic and Republican establishments.

Follow Scott on Twitter

Scott Greer