We can blame Hillary for Bill – remember “two for the price of one?”
There are many, today, who angrily reject the notion that Hillary Clinton should be held responsible for the policies of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, because she was just the First Lady. But not so fast. In 2007, the Clintons made a calculated decision for Hillary to run on Bill’s legacy, to boast that when Bill Clinton was President, it was a “co-presidency”; in fact, in 1992, Bill Clinton made a “controversial statement during the 1992 campaign that voters would get ‘two for the price of one’ if they elected him.” During a notable moment in a debate with Hillary Clinton during the 2008 election cycle, then-candidate Obama said that sometimes he wasn’t sure which of the two he was running against. Watch (at 3:25):
During the 2008 election cycle, Hillary Clinton made her experience as First Lady a vital part of her experience – she expected that that narrative, of experience in the White House, would effectively goose her experience versus what she deemed the inexperienced, one-term-Senator, then-candidate Obama. She couldn’t then, and can’t now, have it both ways.
Here are some of the policies that we can judge Hillary Clinton on – which she has since majorly flip-flopped about – since, during his tenure, she served as a a mouthpiece and “co-president” of former President Bill Clinton:
- Mass incarceration: As reported by AlJazeera.com, “In April, she called for sweeping criminal justice reform and ‘an end to the era of mass incarceration.’ It was an era that Bill Clinton concedes he helped begin by signing an omnibus crime bill in 1994 that mandated a federal three-strikes rule, which mandated putting violent offenders behind bars for life if they had two prior convictions, including for drug offenses.
- Gay Marriage: In 2013, Hillary Clinton decided she was all in on gay marriage. But, as AlJazeera noted, “Hillary Clinton’s campaign has enthusiastically and vocally embraced LGBT rights. It was a different story in the 1990s, when Bill Clinton enacted ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ codifying military policy barring openly gay members from serving. Two years later, he signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which forbade the federal government to recognize same-sex unions and permitted states to refuse to recognize them, saying, ‘I long opposed governmental recognition of same-gender marriages, and this legislation is consistent with that position.’
- Trade: AlJazeera.com reported, “In 1994 he [President Clinton] championed and signed into law the North American Free Trade Agreement, which many blamed for a wave of factory closures and job losses around the country. but Hillary Clinton has been persistently evasive on the issue of trade.” Take the Trans Pacific Partnership: In 2010 she was for it, in 2011 she was for it, in 2012 she was for it, in 2014 she was okay with it, and in it was only in late 2015 – when her opponent, Bernie Sanders, vehemently opposed the deal and vowed to fight it in the Senate – that Clinton tepidly stated she opposed it.
- Wall Street Regulation: As the Daily Kos noted, in 1999, Bill Clinton signed into law the repeal of Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which Wall Street backed. Glass-Steagall was designed to prevent “Wall Street gamblers from causing yet another economic collapse in the wake of the Great Depression,” and “was the only thing keeping the big banks from merging with one another to become literally ‘too big too fail.'” In 2000, Bill Clinton signed into law the Commodity Modernization Act, which deregulated the risky derivatives market. These Acts opened the floodgates for banks to engage in predatory lending and give risky mortgages to low-income households. President Clinton also surrounded himself with “neoliberal Wall Street insiders as his main economic policy handlers and advisers.” Given the money Hillary Clinton has gleaned from Wall Street donors, and the personal profit she’s reaped to the tune of millions from speeches given to Wall Street and other corporate entities, it’s not rocket science to deduce that, in this, she will follow the path of former President Bill Clinton. Though Clinton has adopted the rallying cry of Bernie Sanders about the need to rein in Wall Street, she hasn’t yet released transcripts of her speeches to Wall Street, and has been remarkably vague and milquetoast as to just how she’d regulate Wall Street.
- Economy: As The Nation notes, during his presidential run in the 90’s, “Bill Clinton made the economy his top priority and argued persuasively that conservatives were using race to divide the nation and divert attention from the failed economy. In practice, however, he capitulated entirely to the right-wing backlash against the civil-rights movement and embraced former president Ronald Reagan’s agenda on race, crime, welfare, and taxes—ultimately doing more harm to black communities than Reagan ever did . . . As unemployment rates sank to historically low levels for white Americans in the 1990s, the jobless rate among black men in their 20s who didn’t have a college degree rose to its highest level ever. This increase in joblessness was propelled by the skyrocketing incarceration rate . . . To make matters worse, the federal safety net for poor families was torn to shreds by the Clinton administration in its effort to ‘end welfare as we know it.’ In his 1996 State of the Union address, given during his re-election campaign, Clinton declared that ‘the era of big government is over’ and immediately sought to prove it by dismantling the federal welfare system known as Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC). The welfare-reform legislation that he signed—which Hillary Clinton ardently supported then and characterized as a success as recently as 2008—replaced the federal safety net with a block grant to the states, imposed a five-year lifetime limit on welfare assistance, added work requirements, barred undocumented immigrants from licensed professions, and slashed overall public welfare funding by $54 billion (some was later restored).” [Emphasis mine]
If Hillary Clinton were the sort of First Lady who picked out china and tended the White House garden then, yeah, it would be unfair to blame her for the policies of her husband. But she was far from that sort of First Lady. It was, in fact, during her tenure as First Lady that she got her first taste of serious national power – and her thirst for that power hasn’t abated over the past decades.
When the voting public – and, in particular, the black community – looks at the Clinton legacy, it would be in their best interests to remember that the past is the best predictor of the future, and that the way the Clintons governed in the 90’s is likely the way Hillary Clinton would govern today. We would, in fact, again be getting “two for the price of one.”