Hillary and Bill and Paul Krugman Race to the Right to Stop the Bern

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Originally posted on April 9, 2016 at the New Economic Perspectives blog.

Remember several weeks ago when Hillary Clinton was complaining that Democrats did not consider her a “progressive?”  Bernie Sanders’ big win in Wisconsin ended that tactic and propelled Paul Krugman and Hillary and Bill Clinton to race to the right, inadvertently proving Bernie’s point that they are not progressives on the key issues.

In the last week, Hillary and her surrogates have pivoted hard right and retreated to their long-held positions on the major issues.  Indeed, in several cases they have gone even farther to the right than the policies they pushed over a decade ago – even though those policies proved disastrous.  They also inadvertently demonstrated the terrible policies that were produced by the Clinton’s vaunted “pragmatism” and compromising with the most extreme Republican demands.  That was the story of Clinton’s infamous welfare “reform” – a policy both Clintons championed.  Tom Frank details in his new book entitled Listen, Liberal how the Clintons’ “pragmatism” and zeal to work with the worst elements of the Republican Party led to the welfare “reform” bill.    Zach Carter has just written the article I was planning to write about that travesty.  He entitled it “Nothing Bill Clinton Said To Defend His Welfare Reform Is True.”  I encourage you to read it.

As a criminologist (I am also an adviser to Bernie on economics), I will begin my two-part series on Hillary’s race to the right with Bill Clinton’s effort to defend his drug law policies and Hillary’s denunciation of black drug users as “super predators.”  The second column explains Krugman’s race to the right on banking in his effort to support Hillary’s hard pivot to the right.

Bill’s defense of his policies that helped feed the mass incarceration of blacks and Latinos for drug offense came in the same April 7, 2016 campaign speech in Philadelphia that led to Zach Carter skewering his defense of welfare “reform.”   Bill’s speech was strongly protested by Black Lives Matter members, which led to unscripted, angry attacks by Bill on some of the protesters and prompted his defense of his crime bill and Hillary’s attack on “superpredators.”

Bill made four key points about crime in his attempted defense and attacks on the protesters.  First he claimed that his 1993 crime bill led to a huge decrease in crime.  The reality is that street crimes were declining before his bill and the trend continued after the bill passed.  (Elite financial crimes were surging due to the Clinton’s championing of the three “de’s” – deregulation, desupervision and de facto decriminalization of finance – but the Clintons and the authors creating and spreading the myth of the black and Latino “superpredators” ignored them.)

Second, Bill claimed that the bad parts of his crime bill were caused by Republican demands. Tom Frank’s book shows how the Clintons’ “pragmatism” and promises to work with the hard right led to him crafting a bill that produced the mass incarceration of Americans.  This problem was compounded by his sentencing provision that punished crack cocaine users 100 times more severely (by weight) than powder cocaine users.  When the bill was drafted it seems likely that the drafters did not know that crack cocaine was used overwhelmingly by blacks and Latinos and powder cocaine overwhelmingly by whites.  A wide range of people eagerly created what social scientists call a “moral panic” about crack cocaine even though its effects were the same of powder.  Bill’s crime bill achieved bipartisan support, including Bernie.

What Bill did not discuss, but what Tom Frank’s book emphasizes, is that the immense racial disparity in sentencing – and the lack of any basis for it given the chemical equivalency of crack and powder – became clear within a year after passage of the act.  By 1995, the U.S. Sentencing Commission had gathered the data, conducted the analysis, and done all the drafting to repeal the disparity – and Bill and the Republican Congress promptly worked pragmatically and in a bipartisan manner to block the repeal of the racist sentencing disparity.  After he left office, Bill repeatedly apologized for his Crime Act, but a few days ago in Philadelphia he reverted to praising his disastrous law.  He is moving exceptionally hard right back to his natural instincts when he gets off script.

Third, Bill moved so far right that he resurrected a racist position Hillary had enunciated (and later repudiated).  Hillary attacked blacks who used crack as “super predators.”  That phrase was crafted as part of the effort to generate a moral panic in order to produce the mass incarceration of blacks.  CNN reported on Hillary’s use of the term.         

“They are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘super predators,’” Clinton said in a 1996 speech, when crime was a major public concern, according to polls at the time. “No conscience, no empathy, we can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.”

Hillary was quoting phrases from three ultra-right authors that were Reagan officials.  None of them was a criminologist, yet they claimed that overwhelmingly black “super predators” were growing at such epic rates that we should be so terrified by them that we would support a full scale “war” against black and Latino drug users.  They did not simply coin the term “super predator” and stress that they were primarily black – they called them “feral.”  That is the word used for a once tame animal that reverts to a wild animal.  Black crack users were demonized as subhuman – wild animals whose ancestors had once been tame (as slaves) and who, as Hillary demanded, must be brought “to heel” like trained dogs.

None of this was true, but the racist lies succeeded in creating the moral panic that caused enormous damage to our Nation.  Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness is an excellent treatment of the shameful result.

Hillary eventually (in 2016) recanted her adoption of the racist “super predator” phrase and meme.  Bill is disinterring it now because he got flustered and angered by the Black Lives Matter protesters and reverted in an unscripted fit to what came reflexively.

Fourth, Bill attacked the Black Lives Matter protesters in a way that was unworthy of him.  Indeed, his attack on them came directly from his bizarre effort to support Hillary’s use of the term “super predator” months after she had repudiated that term.  Bill invoked the same racist myths, using the same racist language that was employed over a decade ago even though they have been completely discredited by criminologists.  CNN’s report of his Philadelphia speech notes:

He also defended Hillary Clinton’s use of the phrase “super predators.”

“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 in the streets to murder other African-American children,” the former president said. “Maybe you thought they were good citizens — she didn’t.”

(Bill also seems to be channeling the interrogation scene from the movie LA Confidential “Were you hopped up, Ray?)

Plainly, Black Lives Matter protesters never suggested that “good citizens” “murder” “children.”  Bill’s claim that they did so shows how panicked he was by Bernie’s big win in Wisconsin.  Bill’s story that “gang leaders … got 13-year old kids hopped up on crack, and sent them … to murder other African-American children” is a racist myth.  Even the ultra-hard right authors that invented the term “super predator” and described black crack users as akin to animals abandoned the term and their claims over five years ago.  Bill has gone far to the right of the ultra-right wing by disinterring these racist myths, claiming that they were and are accurate, and making the preposterous claim that Black Lives Matter protesters support those who murder black children.


How badly did Bill do on crime in his Philadelphia speech?  I’ve just found a Wall Street Journal editorial that they have posted entitled “In Defense of Bill Clinton.”  The WSJ’s editorial team praises the Clintons for “telling the truth” about the “super predators,” falsely asserts that the crime bill is what reduced crime, and applauds his claim that Black Lives Matter members seek to defend those who murder black children.  Murdoch’s minions then instruct Democrats and Black Lives Matter “agitators” (another racist meme buried 30 years ago that the WSJ dug up for this editorial) on why they should be praising Bill’s disinterring the racist fiction of “gang leaders who got 13-year-olds hopped up on crack and sent them out onto the street to murder other African-American children.”

Progressives at the time were happy to go along with Mr. Clinton’s New Democratic policies when center-right positioning seemed essential to winning the White House. But now they’re too intimidated by Black Lives Matter to tell the truth.


The Black Lives Matter agitators should thank President Clinton, not excoriate him.

When Murdoch’s mouthpieces purport to “tell the truth” to blacks and progressives it’s a sure sign that they are lying.


Steven Greenberg | April 9, 2016 10:10 pm |Thank you for reminding us of all these facts. If we are lucky, Bill can do more damage to the Hillary campaign than any of her adversaries can. And that’s not because her adversaries can’t do plenty of damage just by telling the truth about the Clintons.Whereas Jimmy Carter’s reputation has soared since he left office, Bill’s is reaching the sewer level since he left office.

Barbara Alsop | April 10, 2016 6:59 am |It is always nice to see a well-articulated, historic analysis of why something Bill Clinton does something is appalling. My gut reaction when I saw the video was that he had lost his mind but you have shown me how much he was just showing his true self. I voted for him back in the 90s because I was still holding my nose to vote for the lesser of two evils. I shan’t do it again this year.

John Wilkins | April 10, 2016 at 8:08 am |This is part of a pattern: attacking Hillary Clinton because of the sins of her husband when he was president more than 16 years ago and the country was far more to the right than it is now. In those days the “moderate” democrats were running things as were the Neocons. It is a sexist thing. After all, Hillary is a woman so she must follow everything her husband says and believed. Hillary should no her feminine place and just give up and stay at home where she belongs.

jack | April 10, 2016 1:55 pm |Wilkins-You’re being sarcastic right?

Steven Greenberg | April 10, 2016 at 8:32 pm |Just in case it is not sarcasm – we are not simply expecting Hillary to do the same things Bill did because she is a woman and he is a man. We are expecting these things because of what she says now on the campaign trail. Unless you are trying to tell us that women say one thing and mean another. She is the one claiming that Bernie Sanders plans are unrealistic when they are not. She is the one saying that all economists support her plan when they do not. She is the one saying Bernie would get rid of Obamacare before he got universal health care when he has said no such thing. She is the one saying we should give up on ideas because they cannot be implemented in the current environment, when she isn’t willing to put in the effort to change the current environment. She was the one taking gobs of money into the Clinton foundation and handing out favors from her office of Secretary of State. She is the one taking the money from billionaires and they are happy to give it to her because she refuses to commit to breaking up the big banks and restoring Glass-Steagall act.

Barbara Alsop | April 12, 2016 at 2:44 am |I couldn’t have said it better!

Chuck Watts | April 11, 2016 6:29 am |Dear Dr. Black,

I am so happy you have been invited to join Bernie’s campaign and have accepted. I live in Clinton County, Ohio, one of six counties that went for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in the March 15 primary. We are also the only county in Ohio where empathic Republicans and Democrats have engaged candidates to frame their candidacy and later terms around three empathic values and five caring ideas. Our values are care, responsibility to self and others, and strength to implement them in public government. Our five caring ideas are stronger America, broader prosperity, better future, effective government, through mutual responsibility.We would encourage you and your new presidential candidate to embrace this language.

Here are some examples where you could use the new values language, that Bernie is already speaking from. Replace “race to the right” with “declining empathy.” Replace “Hillary and her surrogates are have pivoted hard right and retreated” with “Hillary and her surrogates are shrinking our national empathy reserves by returning to their long-held values on major issues.”Caring citizens know the Clintons are neoliberal, i.e. start from an empathic position and always use conservative market fundamentalism to address an issue. Neoliberal privateers and their accomplices like the Clintons are shrinking American freedoms in too many places. And freedom is the strategic reason we all need to assume mutual responsibility and talk more about empathy.#GoEmpathySurplus,
Chuck Watts

Marco | April 11, 2016 5:22 pm |I dont get it: I thought Krugman was supposed to be one of the good guys…. See also a critique of this Krugman support for Hillary Clinton by Matt Taibbi on his blog on the Rolling Stone site.And congratulations to Mr Black for being appointed an advisor to Bernie Sanders. He certainly deserves it. His day to day hammering away at his favorite themes here is inspiring.

Steven Greenberg | April 11, 2016 at 7:38 pm |Krugman used to be a good guy, but he seems to have sold his soul to the devil. It mystifies me to understand what he gets out of this that is worth tarnishing his reputation so badly. Hillary and the Oligarchs do have a lot of money. Perhaps they could compensate him enough for him to acept banishment from the progressive economics community.

Harry Mann | April 13, 2016 6:54 pm |Was Paul Krugman ever a good guy, or was he just pretending to be something he never was?Who is the real Paul Krugman?

Steven Greenberg | April 14, 2016 3:21 pm |I am reading the book “Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?”
http://www.amazon.com/Listen-Liberal-Happened-Party-People-ebook/dp/B012N992EKI just read the section about all the economically sound things that Krugman had to say about the weaknesses in Obama’s stimulus plan after Krugman returned to being a good guy. Krugman seems to be a particularly bad guy when he wants to support Hillary Clinton. After Obama was elected, sense seemed to return to Krugman for a while.

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